Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kasich/DeWine clash: Back to the Middle Ages

NOW THAT THERE is no post-season bowl hysteria to whip up the Buckeye football fans in Columbus, Republicans have generously - and uncommonly - offered their own blood sport to fill in the void. It's the clash of GOP Titans, namely Gov. Kasich & Co., and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine. There is a strong medieval flavor to it, as when popes and kings duked it out over who was in charge of the masses.

Clearly, the unlikely power play that violates Republican tradition of never publicly slamming a member of your own party (while blistering each other sotto voce) is an open sore nowadays. A well- connected state Republican conceded on the phone with me the other day: "It's serious. It won't go away soon." Is it ego? I asked. "Exactly," he said, suggesting there were a number of moving parts. It's understandable only if you bring yourself to concede that with Kasich, the top tier of the pecking order is occupied by lobbyists, cronies and old friends.

That's the short version of the party's in-house hostilities that are worrying some of the faithful's bystanders. It will bleed into a busy political year with a presidential election at stake. Indeed, as the Columbus Dispatch's Joe Hallett keenly reported a few days ago, the State GOP's second-in-command has scorched the Kasich forces for splitting the party by openly trying to unseat DeWine. "It's almost become: we have met the enemy, and it is us," said Kay Ayres, state GOP vice chairwoman. Her message to the governor: Lay off this nonsense.

Nice try, but it won't be enough to satisfy the Kasich machine that is driven by lobbyists who are doing quite well with Kasich's aid, thank you. The governor has been joined by his buddy and torpedo, House Speaker Bill Batchelder to wield the axe. Batchelder has accused DeWine of working against the governor's best interests.

Meantime, no less than Kasich claque Alex Arshinkoff, the Summit County GOP chairman, took a strong stand for Batchelder's credentials in the Plain Dealer, offering a brief character sketch of Batchelder. Declaring Batchelder to be a great party leader ( by the way, Arshinkoff never fails to describe his political pals as great) said: "I've never known him to lie." But I digress.

The Columbus political blog Plunderbund offered some insight into the quarrel: "Kasich came into power with a plan: privatize everything in the state and enrich as many of his friends as possible in the process."

That point is hardly debatable. There have been numerous reports the past year of Kasich handing off lucrative contracts through well connected lobbyists to the sort of recipients who would be expected to reciprocate. That's how the governor has done business and continues to do so. On the other hand, DeWine is said to believe that too often state policy is being carried out by the governor's friends.

Lobbyists? Friends? Cronies? Here's one example cited by Plunderbund. Don Thibaut, who was Kasich's chief-0f-staff for two decades when Kasich was in Congress, now operates a lobbying firm, Credo Company with a boast on his "About Us" page "highlighting his very personal and long-term relationship with John Kasich. " So should we be surprised that when the state sold off a prison to a private buyer, the contract went to a Thibaut client?

God knows how much of this is going on. Yet wasn't it John Kasich, upon entering the governor's office, who warned lobbyists that he would not put up with them in the bright new era of progressive governing? Sure he did. And like Batchelder, he never lies.

1 comment:

David Hess said...

Like Gingrich and Bush the Younger, Kasich is steeped in the ideology of privatization, not only because of a blind faith in the notion that private industry can do no wrong in serving the economic interests of everyone but also because it can serve as a two-way conduit to enrich friends who in turn are expected to finance the political campaigns of public officials granting government contracts. Not to mention the choice jobs that go to the politicians when they leave office. For instance, look where Kasich ended up -- with a Wall Street financier -- between political hitches. When folks begin to understand this circle-dance, they're likely to understand why privatization is so popular with the lobbies and fat-cats that stand to gain the most when public services are shifted to private hands. Lost in this self-perpetuating circle is a loss of accountability to taxpayers whose money is used to stake these shifts, once they are made. Who, for example, do you blame when publicly financed charter schools fall down on the job, or when prisons brutalize or neglect to rehabilitate the inmates? Who, when government-sponsored retirement funds are badly managed or go broke? Who, when government health programs are privatized and begin denying benefits to the sick? In this particular feud between the governor and the Ohio GOP, one would be well-advised to look beyond the clashing egos and, as a former FBI agent told the Washington Post reporters in the Watergate scandal: "Follow the money." What we might have here is a fight between party factions over who's getting the favors from the contracts.