The scene was a political fundraising luncheon in Cleveland. I was a College Republican. He was the green-eyeshade chairman of the House Budget Committee, though he aspired to be more.
We posed for a photo. John Kasich asked me where I was from. “Boston?” he repeated incredulously. “That’s a kick-ass city. What are you doing here?” I informed him that I went to school in his congressional district, some 30 miles north of Columbus. He seemed unimpressed.
Kasich was right about Boston, so I moved back there. After an abortive presidential campaign, he went on to host a Fox show called “Heartland” and become governor of Ohio. But I thought about the exchange as Kasich — a onetime conservative up-and-comer who helped negotiate the first balanced federal budget since 1969 — recently made new friends.
Consider this op-ed, dropped in my inbox courtesy of Kasich’s press shop: “Kasich deploys the politics of largesse, GOP-style.” The writer intended this as a compliment.
First Kasich rammed expanded Medicaid, a key component of Obamacare, through a Republican-controlled legislature. Ohio’s second-term governor went all fire and brimstone on conservative opponents of Medicaid expansion.
“I had a conversation with one of the members of the legislature the other day,” Kasich recalled. “I said, ‘I respect the fact that you believe in small government. I do, too. I also know that you’re a person of faith.’”
Kasich continued: “’Now, when you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he’s probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor. You better have a good answer.’”
The Republican-controlled legislature caved. So did the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court, which upheld the Medicaid expansion on Dec. 20.
“I would point you to Ohio and the significant decision that happened there,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney in October. “We’re obviously pleased with the developments in Ohio and in states across the country where the decision to expand Medicaid has been made, because we’re talking about a significant number of uninsured Americans who will now have insurance.”
“I commend Governor Kasich for advocating for the expansion of Medicaid,” said Cleveland Democratic Mayor Frank Jackson.
“Ohio Governor defies GOP with defense of social safety net,” blared a headline in the New York Times. The paper quoted Kasich as saying, “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor.” It story also said he “occasionally sounds more like an heir to Lyndon B. Johnson than to Ronald Reagan.”