This JobsOhio saga is getting messy. Maybe God will sort it out.
Gov. John Kasich said the people suing him over his privatized economic-development agency "are going to have to answer to a much higher power than me."
Kasich called the litigants --primarily a liberal policy group and two Democratic state legislators --"nihilists" whose lawsuit "is about wrecking Ohio's economy and destroying people's jobs."
Merriam-Webster's dictionary offers multiple definitions of nihilism, including "a doctrine or belief that conditions in the social organization are so bad as to make destruction desirable for its own sake independent of any constructive program or possibility."
Kasich's outburst came during a question-and-answer session yesterday with reporters from across Ohio hosted by the Associated Press. The Republican governor was responding to questions relating to JobsOhio's sale this week of more than $1.5 billion in bonds to fund a complicated lease of Ohio's wholesale liquor profits, a deal expected to generate $100 million annually for Jobs-Ohio to use for economic development.
In April 2011, the liberal policy group ProgressOhio, Sen. Michael Skindell of Lakewood and then-Rep. Dennis Murray of Sandusky challenged the constitutionality of JobsOhio. No court has ruled on the substance of their original suit, but multiple courts have said that the plaintiffs don't have legal standing to sue, based on procedures for suing JobsOhio written into Ohio law.
Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court said it will hear an appeal of those rulings, and should the Supreme Court rule in ProgressOhio's favor, the plaintiffs' original constitutional challenge would get its day in court --and possibly jeopardize JobsOhio's debt issuance.
"There's no legitimacy to this," Kasich said. At a different point, he called the suit "silly."
"Constitutional issue? Come on, that's a political issue designed to wreck the progress that we're having in Ohio," he said.Kasich said the lawsuit is a tool for Democrats to "somehow ... get back in power and do more damage than they've already done."
He said he is getting closer to proposing changes to Ohio's legal system so that losers in a lawsuit would be required by law to cover the defendant's court costs, unless excused by a judge.
"Kasich becoming the bully on the bus and saying the loser must pay really sounds like the governor himself doesn't respect dissent and needs to be a bully if people don't agree with him," said Brian Rothenberg, the executive director of Prog-ressOhio. Rothenberg noted that since the filing of the lawsuit, it has been joined by Maurice Thompson of the conservative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law.
"As far as invoking God, I don't believe that the good Lord is taking sides in John Kasich's attempt to spend $1.5 billion. I'm just as religious as he is, and I believe the good Lord is neutral as to who is right in this instance."
Thompson said Kasich's statements were offensive because, "if there's a true nihilist, it's him and not us."
"It's he who puts his pet projects above American values, like adherence to the constitution," Thompson said. "If you don't believe in that, what is your value system?"
Mark Caleb Smith, director of Christian-based Cedarville University's Center for Political Studies, said: "I am sure it's true that if Gov. Kasich had to say it over again, he would phrase it very differently, I would hope."
Kasich often cites his Christian faith as an impetus for his policy initiatives as governor, but he doesn't usually discuss it in the context of his opponents.
"I hope what he means here is we all have a conscience we'll have to address at some point," Smith said. "For those of us who are theists, we have to deal with how God works in our lives, but it's a difficult phrase to use in a political argument."
Skindell said, "Gov. Kasich is accountable to a higher power --it's called the Ohio Constitution."
During yesterday's question-and-answer session, Kasich strongly hinted that he will propose expanding Medicaid --an option under President Barack Obama's new health-care law --as part of his state budget to be released on Monday.
"If you start covering the childless individuals who are poor ... you would generate about $14 billion of Ohio taxpayer money coming back to deal with the challenges we have in this state involving poverty," Kasich said.
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