Statehouse Rule of Thumb: When you irritate both the right and (what passes for) the left in Ohio, you’re probably doing something fair.
That explains much of the flak fired at Republican Gov. John R. Kasich’s proposed 2013-15 state budget, notably his tax-cut plan and bid to expand Medicaid coverage.
True, Kasich et al. can be their own worst enemies due to the perception — and some fellow Republicans say, the reality — that the administration is much better at trying to order people around than listening. And the governor and his allies shot themselves in the feet by gerrymandering the General Assembly — drawing districts to favor Republican candidates for the legislature.
That means the real election is the spring party primary election held to nominate candidates for November elections. In lopsided districts (Republican or Democratic), the primary winner is usually the November winner. Those kinds of primaries favor True Believers. True Believers don’t compromise. True Believers — left or right — follow the Theorem of Righteousness:
“If we disagree, it’s because you’re a bad person. And if you change your mind, by using it, you’re a hypocrite.” Good example: The attacks on Republican Sen. Rob Portman, once an opponent of same-sex marriage, who now favors it. Given some of the reactions, you have to wonder who’s being tougher on Portman: Those whom he used to agree with — or those Portman agrees with now. The latter need to recall another Statehouse Rule of Thumb: A yes vote is a yes vote.
Here’s the tax-cut debate Kasich is wrestling with: He aims to offset income-tax cuts by (a) lowering Ohio’s sales-tax rate, then (b) applying the new, lower sales tax to some services it doesn’t cover now.
It’s fair to ask if Ohio needs another income-tax cut. A better option might be bolstering recession-squeezed services. Still, Kasich confronts a huge irony: Many of his fellow Republicans have yelped for almost 42 years about the “Crime of ’71,” when GOP votes let the General Assembly create the income tax. Now, given a chance to cut income taxes, some Republicans are suddenly finicky.
Reason One: Lobbies for businesses fighting a broader sales tax finance GOP legislators’ campaigns. An incumbent doesn’t want lobbies backing a primary challenger. The same dynamic applies to Big Oil’s and Big Gas’s Statehouse fight against the more-than-reasonable severance taxes Kasich wants.
Reason Two: Self-styled Tea Party Republicans, the truest believers this side of any Communist Party study clubs that may be left in Ohio. The Tea Party couldn’t keep Barack Obama from carrying Ohio. But it can have real leverage in General Assembly districts drawn to favor the GOP.
Threats of a True Believer primary challenge spook scaredy-cat Republican incumbents. Candidates of both parties say they want to go to the legislature to make “the tough decisions.” Actually, that’s the last thing they want, and Tea Party breast-beating reinforces that. So now, John Kasich shares John Boehner’s problem: They fathered lopsided districts to guarantee GOP legislative majorities. But lopsided districts, swayed by True Believers, spawn unruly caucuses. The Good Lord, or Darwin, has a delightful sense of political humor.
As for Kasich’s Medicaid plan, True Believers evidently think expanding Medicaid in Ohio would be the same thing as voting for Barack Obama. In fact, Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid would protect the finances and medical quality of its hospitals, which the Ohio Hospital Association says employ 600,000 people. If the General Assembly rejects Medicaid expansion, no one at the White House will lose any sleep — but some Ohio communities likely will lose their hospitals.