As his opponents gear up for a summer campaign against the legislative centerpiece of his administration, Gov. John Kasich finds himself with scant political capital to spend in mounting a defense.
According to a Quinnipiac poll of registered voters, 50 percent of Ohio voters disapprove of the job Kasich is doing as governor. Just 35 percent approve of his job performance. Almost one third of all registered voters are "very dissatisfied" with the way things are going in the state.
When Kasich ran for governor and defeated incumbent governor Ted Strickland, he promised he would close Ohio's $8 billion budget gap without raising taxes. He and the Republican dominated legislature passed numerous spending cuts to bring the budget into balance. The cuts in state services will impact Ohioans from all walks of life.
Kasich has also examined the possibility of leasing the Ohio Turnpike to a private operator and has pushed legislation to allow oil and gas exploration on state owned property as means of increasing revenue to the cash strapped state.
However, the issue that most voters identify with John Kasich is Senate Bill 5 which he signed into law in March. S.B. 5 fundamentally alters the ability of state and local employee unions to negotiate with their employers. The bill prohibits strikes by public employees, sets minimum levels of pension contributions and contributions toward health care.
Public employee unions and their allies immediately sprang into action to get the law repealed. They needed to collect more than 231,000 valid signatures of regsitered voters from 44 of Ohio's 88 counties in 90 days. Proponents turned in more than a million. As of Monday, the advocacy group, "We Are Ohio" who led the signature gathering effort says more than 800.000 of their signatures have been validated. Secretary of State Jon Husted has until July 26 to validate the signatures and certify the referendum for the November ballot.
According to Qunnipiac, 56 percent of voters would vote "yes" on the referendum, meaning they would support repeal of S.B. 5.
Ohio Democrats smell blood and are pulling out the stops to bash the governor. Yesterday, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern sent out a fundraising appeal to Democrats, linking John Kasich to the scandal in British media linked to global media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. Kasich, they point out, once worked for Murdoch's Fox News network and received campaign contributions from Murdoch and his wife.
The news is not all bad for Gov. Kasich. While approximately half of registered voters say his budget is unfair to people like them, 63 percent support his approach of balancing the budget by using budget cuts while not raising taxes.
Kasich can take heart that such political unpopularity has been overcome in the past. Gov. Richard Celeste was exceptionally unpopular in 1983 after he and the Democratically controlled General Assembly passed across the board income tax hikes to fill a hole in the state budget. By 1986, Celeste and the Democrats rebounded and easily defeated former governor James Rhodes and the Democrats held on to control of the state legislature.
This summer promises to be one of the more interesting off year elections in recent Ohio history. Both sides are gearing up for a battle that they are sure will fortell which direction Ohio will head in 2012 when President Obama, Ohio senator Sherrod Brown, and several Republican freshman legislators face reelection bids in a state known for being politically fickle.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story)
Do you approve or disapprove of the job Governor John Kasich is doing? Do you favor the repeal of S.B. 5? Should taxes be raised to solve Ohio's budget problems? Tell us what you think.