- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s new Republican Gov. John Kasich is a study in contradictions.

He is candid yet secretive. He is acerbic yet personable. He quibbles over media access yet is omnipresent on Twitter and Fox. He’s made a cause of taking on public workers after spending most of his life as one.

Critics call Mr. Kasich’s inconsistencies arrogance. Fans see him as bold and endearingly human. Polls have found mounting dissatisfaction among voters. One thing shines through regardless: John Kasich is a man in a hurry.

Six months into a four-year term, Mr. Kasich has dumped his Democratic predecessor’s high-speed rail initiative and education overhaul. He’s moved to privatize Ohio’s job-creation operation, state prisons and the Ohio Turnpike. He’s signed a bill limiting bargaining rights for 350,000 unionized public workers that’s even stricter than Wisconsin’s polarizing first-in-the-nation restrictions.

The state budget he signed Thursday closes a yawning budget gap that approached $8 billion while cutting estate, income and investment taxes.

The pros and cons of Mr. Kasich have both Democrats and fellow Republicans seeing the possibility that his impact could be important as President Obama seeks to retake Ohio in 2012. Mr. Obama won with 51.5 percent of the vote in 2008, but it is essentially a race between the parties to see whose ideas — Mr. Obama’s stimulus and health care policies or Mr. Kasich’s business incentives and cuts to government — do more, faster for average Ohioans.

Both know that to Ohio voters, the economy is king.

“Ultimately, John Kasich’s popularity will not be the most important number to determine whether Obama carries Ohio. It will be the unemployment rate,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute.

Indeed, Mr. Kasich, appearing Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said doing “what’s right” trumps any consideration of his political popularity.

“At the end of the day, you look yourself in the mirror and you say to yourself, ‘Did I do what was right for families and for children?’ If I paid a political price, so what?” Mr. Kasich said.

And the former congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee in the Clinton administration admonished Washington lawmakers to re-evaluate their own motivations.

“I mean, there’s too much posturing. There’s too much thinking about your party, yourself.”

Mr. Kasich, 59, moves through his days with the demeanor of the young man he was when he arrived at the statehouse in 1979, making history as the youngest state senator Ohioans had ever elected at 26. His youthful self-image shows through when he declares he’ll change the color of Ohio’s pink drivers’ licenses or restore snow days schoolchildren were losing in a legislative battle. He likes Lady Gaga and Spider-Man and wants Ohio to be cool.

Yet a Quinnipiac poll found voters’ disapproval of Mr. Kasich rose from 46 percent in March to 49 percent in May. Majorities disliked his handling of the state budget and said his policies are unfair to people like them.

Mr. Kasich is among a handful of new Republican governors around the country — including Florida’s Rick Scott and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker — who are trying a new aggressive approach, often to the displeasure of the public.

Public Policy Polling declared Mr. Kasich and Mr. Scott the two most unpopular governors in America in May.

Protests dog Mr. Kasich wherever he goes. Last week, thousands of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other unionized workers paraded through the streets of Columbus against Ohio’s new collective bargaining law — many chanting, “O-H-I-O, John Kasich’s got to go!”

On a recent afternoon at Port Columbus International Airport, Bill Parizek, a Republican from suburban Dublin, tried to explain the phenomenon, comparing Mr. Kasich to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a fellow Republican and fiscal conservative.

“They have that cold, just-the-facts kind of approach. They do what they think they need to do to right the ship, and they’re not as warm and fuzzy as probably a lot of people would like,” said Mr. Parizek, 49, who works for a New York investment fund. “I think that’s the profile of the kind of person you need to make really tough, fundamental structural change.”

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