Campaign contributions aren't bribes. They are relationship-builders. As The New York Times' front-page look at Ohio Gov. John Kasich once again makes clear, who politicians know is often a dominant predictor of what they'll do in office.
Trip Gabriel's profile of Kasich highlights an unexpected side to the staunchly conservative politician.
He embodies conventional Republican fiscal priorities — balancing the budget by cutting aid to local governments and education — but he defies many conservatives in believing government should ensure a strong social safety net. In his three years as governor, he has expanded programs for the mentally ill, fought the nursing home lobby to bring down Medicaid costs and backed Cleveland’s Democratic mayor, Frank Jackson, in raising local taxes to improve schools.
Medicaid is at the center of the Times' interest in Kasich. Ohio is one of five states that has implemented the Medicaid expansion component of Obamacare while not establishing a state insurance exchange. (The other four: Arizona, Delaware, New Jersey, and North Dakota.) The former decision allows more poor people to enroll in the existing federal health insurance program; the latter forces Ohioans to rely on the stumbling federal insurance system for coverage. Neither was popular with the state's largely Republican legislature, but Kasich used a procedural back door to ensure that the Medicaid expansion went through.
Why? In part, the Times notes, because of his Christian values. But also, in part, because Kasich's brother is mentally ill.
That relationship has repeatedly gotten Kasich involved in mental-health-related issues. He encouraged passage of two bills that would expand treatment access. When a campaign donor was found to have contributed illegally, Kasich donated the donations to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The director of that organization spoke to the Times: "It’s been an astonishing thing to watch. Since he’s become governor we’ve received more for mental health care than any time in the past 20 years."