MARIETTA, Ohio (AP) — Republican Gov. John Kasich sounded a unifying message during his annual State of the State address Wednesday, saying his state “is getting stronger every day” and is setting an example for the nation by solving tough problems with ingenuity and cooperation.
Kasich might be off the presidential campaign trial temporarily, but some of the scenes at the speech weren’t far removed. Kasich walked onto the stage at the historic Peoples Bank Theatre carrying a legislator’s baby. He then posed for a selfie with Republican legislative leaders before beginning his address.
Kasich returned to the familiar theme of his efforts to pull Ohio from economic hard times when he took office in 2011, and he said the state is leading the way with its innovations in education, Medicaid expansion, job creation and training and police-community relations.
He said the state’s accomplishments aren’t just his.
“Make no mistake, it’s not just me behind the steering wheel,” he told a crowd of about 1,000. “We’re all in this together, and we are all responsible for keeping Ohio moving forward toward our goal.”
He said everyone has unique gifts and should be encouraged to find his or her greater purpose “to literally live a life better than ourselves and to make a commitment to lift the world.”
Kasich has trailed New York businessman Donald Trump and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination.
Democrats expressed skepticism over Kasich’s moderate tone in the speech.
“John Kasich can keep pretending he’s different from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, but the fact is that his governorship has been a failure and his policies have always been just as extreme as the rest of his party,” said TJ Helmstetter, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee.
Kasich announced plans during the speech to propose by early next year a comprehensive set of changes to the state’s tax code, which will include accelerating the state’s income tax cut by the end of calendar year 2016. The two-year, $71.2 billion state operating budget that took effect July 1 didn’t include a proposed tax increase on Ohio oil-and-gas drillers that had been one of his priorities.
Legislative leaders created a study panel that dropped the idea.
Kasich said his new plan will include more tax relief and changes that better align Ohio’s tax code with the modern economy.
He also laid out a series of steps for dealing with the opiate abuse epidemic that’s plaguing the state. He called for Ohio to join other states in registering pharmacy technicians. He said registration would include ongoing training and education requirements aimed at identifying and helping prevent the problem. He said a registration program also would allow Ohio to track bad actors.
The governor also has called for restricting painkiller prescriptions. He says each prescription should have to be filled by a pharmacy within 90 days and any prescription that hasn’t been taken to the pharmacy within 30 days should be invalidated.
His plan also calls for intensifying scrutiny on new drug treatment clinics.
Further, Kasich said he wants to extend more help to the children of active duty military families.
He said a new Military Family Opportunity Scholarship will help these families make the educational choices that are best for their children. He said young people from active duty military families need extra support and encouragement because they move more often than other families, which can be difficult.
Kasich said the state will review ways to expand the new scholarships to children of veterans and to children of members of the Ohio National Guard and the Reserves.
About a dozen people protested hydraulic fracturing, a drilling procedure also known as fracking, and other issues outside the theatre before the address.
Fracking involves blasting water and chemicals into shale formations to fracture the rock and release oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids trapped inside. The process involves thousands of gallons of water that becomes contaminated and must be trucked offsite and deposited at special deep-injection facilities.
Phyllis Reinhart was among the demonstrators. She stood gripping a sign that read, “Fresh Water Not Frack Water.” She said she lives about 1,800 feet from an injection well in Athens County and the noise and vibrations from the state are disruptive. She wants the Kasich administration to impose more regulations on the sites.
“We want him to see us,” Reinhart said. “We want him to hear us. We want to matter.”
This story has been corrected to restore the word “getting” to the initial quote.