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Government & Politics

Kasich Promises to be Aggressive, yet Bipartisan, in His Final Years

Kasich and Lexi Blakeman

  Gov. John Kasich traveled to Columbiana County Thursday to sign a bill that makes big changes in testing for lead in water – and in notifying people about the results. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports on one of the first of Kasich’s appearances since he gave up his presidential run last month.

As much as his free-flowing style allows, Gov. Kasich stuck to the script in the beginning – talking about House Bill 512 and the difference he thinks it will make.

“This puts Ohio in the front. We are the leader in the country now in dealing with this problem. I mean it’s a serious problem. … We have a lot of old infrastructure and there are ways to deal with it, but of course people need to be aware of the danger and to act accordingly."

But before his 20-minute quasi-speech in a small classroom was done, Kasich also had veered into education reform, getting kids to say no to drugs, job retraining, mentorships, bipartisanship and the value of commitment and innovation.

Then he pulled out a dozen pens and signed House Bill 512.

“So, lots of subjects to cover today but I didn’t want to come all the way here and not preach for a little while. So we’ll sign this bill …"

What changes?
The water bill he signed drastically sets a far higher standard for water to be considered lead-free. It speeds up from 30 business days to 2 how fast homeowners get lead test results. It sets aside millions of dollars for older schools to identify water fountains with lead problems. And it extends terms for low-interest state loans for communities to upgrade their water systems.

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler calls it a comprehensive approach.

Craig Butler
Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler calls it a comprehensive approach.

  “The notification about public safety is very much important. But we also want to make sure that there are tools available so schools, communities and others can test for it and get rid of lead that are across their community as well as within those lead service lines going into their homes.”

Melanie Houston of the Ohio Environmental Council also praised the new law.

“This bill makes Ohio a national leader again in protecting our drinking water here in the state of Ohio and really protecting communities, families, children from lead exposure through drinking water.”  

Bipartisan effort
The bill sped through the Legislature after problems surfaced in another Columbiana County town, Sebring, in February. Back then, the governor was usually out of state, trying to convince other Republicans to nominate him for president.

But Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Hallek says the administration followed through, did the right thing and ensured calm.

“There’s not a Democrat and Republican glass of water. People really don’t care when they turn the spigot on what their politics is when it comes to safe drinking water.

And Kasich followed Hallek’s lead and extended the theme of bi-partisanship beyond water.

We have to listen to one another, and I want to see that happen in this state in the remaining time I have in office.

“There are many issues upon which we can agree and the notion that you happen to be a member of one party, and therefore you don’t get a big voice is not acceptable. We have to listen to one another, and I want to see that happen in this state in the remaining time I have in office.”

Footing the bill
He acknowledged that doesn’t mean there are no differences of opinion. And Democratic state Sen. Joe Schiavoni – who like the others – came to Columbiana to praise the water bill – addressed one of those differences:

Joe Schiavoni
Democratic state Sen. Joe Schiavoni says Ohio needs to come up with a billion dollars for water infrastructure repairs.

How to pay for the billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades needed in Ohio and elsewhere.

Sciavoni wants the Legislature to ask voters to sell a billion in bonds to pay for water quality and underground infrastructure improvements.

"It’s fiscally responsible, we’ve run the numbers. The governor, he’s not a huge fan. He thinks that we’ve leveraged ourselves enough and he’d rather give the money back in tax cuts than make that investment and pay that off. I disagree. I think that it puts people to work and it’ll provide us with an infrastructure that is sustainable in long-term clean water.”

It’s a debate Schiavoni promised he’ll press when the Legislature returns to Columbus – likely not until after the November election.

In a brief session with reporters after the bill signing, Kasich didn’t sound like he plans to take much time off. For his final two years, "the watch word is going to be aggressive. Finish the race strong and bring as much change and as much innovation as we can into this state.”

But first, the western Pennsylvania native was heading over the Pittsburgh to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals.