Ohio Governor John Kasich was already looking at a rough reelection campaign come 2014. As the state continues to grow progressively more purple after years of weak economic growth post recession, Ohio was one of many states to reelect a Democratic senator to Congress despite overwhelmingly electing Republicans to the state house and senate.
The governor has done little to win over those more moderate voters since election day, either. He angered many in the state when he approved a budget chock full of restrictions to abortion, birth control access and funding for social safety net programs, despite the fact that he was able to line item veto out any particular budget amendment he may not have agreed with.
Now, he’s angering those on the right, as well. As part of the Affordable Care Act, each state has the opportunity to expand Medicaid for their own citizens, with the federal government picking up the tab for the first few years. Many Republicans, hoping that Obamacare will fail, have pushed their own states to refuse the funding, wearing their opposition to health care expansion like a badge of honor.
Gov. Kasich, on the other hand, has been urging Ohio legislators to pass expansion, which would bring health care coverage to an additional 275,000 additional low-income Ohioans who otherwise would remain uninsured. It is one of very few policy issues that the governor and his party leaders have disagreed on, and their refusal to vote through expansion has been a thorn in the governor’s side for months.
This week, Gov. Kasich did an end run around his own political allies. Using the seven member Ohio Controlling Board, the state approved Medicaid expansion, bypassing the legislature all together.
According to the media, the Ohio GOP is furious. Reuters reported that nearly 40 state lawmakers publicly condemned Gov. Kasich’s decision to go to the Controlling Board for approval, and one senate leader is considering legislation to “rein in the Controlling Board’s ability to make such sweeping adjustments in budget items that are better considered by the legislature as a whole.” A lawsuit against the move has been filed as well, although notably only six legislators signed on to the suit, as well as two city-based Right to Life affiliates. (The state Right to Life organization supports expansion.)
Gov. Kasich was frequently cited as being a likely target for a Tea Party challenger in his own primary, but as of the end of last month that talk subsided. Now, he has publicly challenged his own majority in the legislature, and their response has been, well, confusing. After all, if the GOP is as opposed to Medicaid expansion as they claimed, why did less than 15 percent of those legislators who chastised Gov. Kasich for bypassing them not bother to sign onto the lawsuit to try to block expansion?
If what is going on in Ohio seems puzzling, it may not be at all. The GOP has a solid majority in the house and senate, and they want to continue to have a Republican governor. But like many in the reddish-purple states, they have learned that a Republican who has to be elected by the whole state — not just a majority in a given district — cannot win a race without appealing to moderates. And these days, moderates believe that opposing Medicaid expansion, blocking access to affordable health insurance and diverting Temporary Funds for Needy Families money to deceptive crisis pregnancy centers isn’t the way to run a state.
With Obamacare growing in popularity, and Republicans dwindling in support, we are likely to see a lot more of these “internal fights” happening in public between Republican governors and Republican legislatures. Together, they will provide the governors with the cover that they need to win reelection. After all, the greatest enemy to a Republican majority legislature is a Democratic governor, because he or she can wield a veto pen.
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