He is hopelessly trailing Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich has seemed during those dreadful Republican debates like the only adult in the room.
In a meeting Thursday with the Daily News Editorial Board, Kasich touted his practical approach to solving big problems, his ability to compromise with political opponents, and his experience as both a congressional leader and chief executive of a major state — none of which Trump or Cruz can claim.
But how genuine is the affable, moderate image Kasich cultivates?
Take, for example, his attempt to cripple Ohio’s public employee unions. In 2011, Kasich signed a bill that not only outlawed strikes, it stripped unions of the right to bargain over health insurance and pension benefits.
He provoked such a fury among the state’s firefighters, police and teachers that they forced a referendum on the issue in which voters rejected the law by nearly 2-to-1.
Though he hasn’t taken the spotlight because of outlandish statements, Kasich’s record has done damage to the state’s education system, environment and economy.
Asked what he learned from that defeat, Kasich said, “Don’t do it again.”
So would a President Kasich attempt to limit the union rights of federal employees?
“It would depend on what you’re talking about,” he said, dancing around the question. “I wouldn’t make any sweeping judgment on that.”
As for addressing the country’s obscene wealth and income inequality, Kasich rejects raising the federal minimum wage.
“Going to $15 an hour is not going to work,” he said, only days after California and New York did exactly that.
Then there’s the environment. A supporter of the Keystone pipeline, Kasich is such a fan of hydraulic fracking, he has pushed for Ohio to lease state parks and forests to the fracking industry.
“I think it’s completely crazy you’re not fracking up here,” he said in a clear jab at Gov. Cuomo’s statewide ban on fracking.
Kasich at least is not a climate change denier, though he has said on national television: “We don’t want to destroy people’s jobs based on some theory that’s not proven.”
Then there’s education. Since Kasich became governor, Ohio has plummeted from fifth to 23rd in Education Week’s Annual report of public school quality.
The state is known as the Wild West for charter schools, with one Stanford University report finding overall charter school performance was lower than that of regular public schools.
A state audit last year found some charter schools were claiming false enrollments. One school got paid for 155 full-time students but actually enrolled only 32.
“We just fixed it,” Kasich said when asked about the charter scandal. “We just raised all the standards, so you’re behind the times.”
The governor did secure a new law requiring more accountability by charters. But in the midst of that effort, his top official for charter schools was forced to resign for misrepresenting the number of low-performing charters.
The wife of that disgraced official used to be Kasich’s chief of staff. She now runs his presidential campaign.
You get the feeling only a Trump or a Cruz could make Kasich look good.