Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s final State of the State address, given Tuesday in his hometown of Westerville at Otterbein University, turned out to be more philosophical than political.
Prior to the speech, pundits pondered whether Kasich would look back on his career or look forward to a future that could feature another run for president in 2020. Or, as one journalist predicted, “He’s going to take a victory lap.”
And while the term-limited Republican did give the obligatory “Ohio is back and stronger than ever” statement, the address looked inward, as well as backward and forward. Just as Kasich was the first to live in his home rather than the governor’s mansion and the first to move the State of the State outside of Columbus (since 2012, he has spoke in Steubenville, Sandusky, Lima, Medina, Wilmington and Marietta), this speech also defied convention.
Kasich began with a shout-out to Westerville, saying he remembered when the city had more gravel than paved roads. The longtime Westerville resident began his gubernatorial campaign at Otterbein in 2009.
He said that after police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli were killed in the line of duty, “we lost a part of ourselves,” yet the residents’ responses showed why Westerville is “still at heart a small town.”
This led to a reflection on how “faith and reason can help humans chart a course for greatness,” in which Kasich cited philosophers such as Albert Camus and theologians like William Wilberforce. The governor said that for much of his life, he has been “trying to figure out my purpose.”
Kasich said that in studying religions, he noticed that Islam, Judaism and Christianity “all share a similar view of creation. Since we are all made in the image of our creator, all people are worthy of respect.”
From respect follows love, compassion, humility, forgiveness, responsibility and justice.
“We all need to live a life a little bigger than ourselves,” he said. “The values are written on our hearts, particularly in times of trial. These values can guide our life and our work.”
He said those ideas have guided his policies in the state, pointing to lower numbers of people who are uninsured, a decrease in addictive prescriptions being written, dealing with rural poverty, mainstreaming people with developmental disabilities, reforming prisons and schools, fighting human trafficking and creating jobs.
“I believe because of practicing these values, we’re stronger than we have been in a generation,” Kasich said.
Prior to the address, Kasich had hinted that it would be in his words, “odd.” He said of himself, “I’m just a slob trying to get through. Speed, haste and ego obscure these values. The worst thing in life is not to lose an election — it’s to serve yourself instead of others.”
Kasich gave out his final Governor’s Courage Awards to three Ohioans, and he hoped the tradition would continue. He donned medals on Nina Schubert, a 19-year-old Kent State Student who created the Nightingale Project to end mental illness stigmas; Mikah Frye, a 10-year-old from Ashland who bought blankets for the homeless on Christmas; and Chris Hole, a hospice nurse from Miamisburg who helped save lives during the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
He urged the public to little things, small acts of kindness — visit the sad and lonely, mentor somebody.
“The future of our country rests on us, not the big shots,” Kasich said. “Why can’t we do the impossible?”
The address closed on a personal note. Kasich recalled first working at the statehouse, trying to look through the glass window of the governor’s office because “it was another world and I wanted to understand it.” The last time he looked, he saw his name was on the door.
“What a journey,” Kasich said. “All I’ve ever tried to do is to lift myself to be worthy of the office. I’ve done my best, run through the tape, but the race isn’t finished. Together, we have a world to change.”
The City of Westerville was adorned with banners to welcome Kasich and the 1,300 attendees who filled the Fritsche Theatre. The event was framed as a joint session of the 132nd General Assembly, with a quorum of the state House and Senate present. After a short film featuring Kasich and introductory comments by Cliff Rosenberger (House of Representatives) and Larry Obhof (Senate), the Westerville Division of Police Honor Guard gave a presentation of colors and Westerville Police Chaplain James Meacham gave the benediction. Following Kasich’s address and after most of the attendees had left, there were comments given by majority and minority members of the legislature.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.