One week after Ohio Democrats held their annual state dinner, where no dessert was served, Ohio Republicans held their party’s state dinner Saturday night at the Hilton Columbus Downtown, where about 500 guests ate their lemon tart dessert listening to keynote speaker New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez lauded Buckeye Governor John R. Kasich as a leader who does what he promises, not a politician who says one thing before an election and does something different later.
Democrats hosted more than 1,000 guests last week across the street at the Columbus convention center, while Ohio Republican statewide office holders with the exception of Attorney General Mike DeWine recounted their successes since 2010, when all they were all elected, to a more intimate gathering of about 500 GOP guests.
New ORP chairman Matt Borges received cheers from the crowd when he introduced himself, the evening’s agenda and applauded Republicans for cleaning up a financial mess he said was left behind by Democrats by reducing taxes while balancing a budget $8 billion in debt. Elected by a wide margin at the time over his Tea Party challenger Tom Zawistowski, Borges, whose rise to party prominence was hastened by Gov. Kasich when former ORP Chairman Kevin DeWine was toppled in the months following Kasich’s narrow win over Ted Strickland, a Democrat, in 2010, the year of the Tea Party factor, served as the evening’s coordinator.
State auditor David Yost recognized Robert T. Bennett as the “Lion of Ohio” for his impressive win record, which at 667 percent he said would put the retired Clevelander ahead of winning NFL coaches like Don Schula, Bill Bellicheck and even Brown’s famed coach Paul Brown.
In his upbeat comments about what it takes to win elections next year, Yost, a one-time newsman and former prosecutor, said “unity doesn’t require uniformity,” which could be an oblique reference to growing fractures between Gov. Kasich and Ohio Tea Party forces who helped push Kasich into office in 2010 but who have currently lined up against him for 2014, on issues like Medicaid, taxes and right to work. He credited his political colleague for a “great Ohio comeback. Panning government, Yost said, “a good job in a good economy means you don’t need much from government.”
Jon Husted, who won his race for Secretary of State in 2010, said his agency’s budget has been cut 21 percent while also cutting 20 percent. Reviving the slogan made famous by former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, who served two terms in the 1990s, Husted, a former Speaker of the Ohio House and state senator, said his agency was “doing more with less.”
State treasurer Josh Mandel, who was among the 2010 class of GOP winners, said he also inherited an office with a fiscal mess, but like every other Republican who won offices formerly held by Democrats, he too has fixed it. The former Marine who served tours of duty in Iraq and lost his race last to unseat Ohio senior US Senator Sherrod Brown, Mandel said House Speaker William G. Batchelder and Senate President Keith Faber are “walking the walk” on core Republican values like small government and lower taxes. Mandel said he’s working to put state checkbook online.
Judy French introduce herself as the newest supreme court judge, and said that electing her next year will further guarantee a conservative court. On stage with French was Sharon Kennedy, the 154th supreme court judge.
Seated at the front table was Rob Portman, who won his seat in 2010 and who was among Mitt Romney’s top picks last year for vice president. Introduced as an officeholder with an A-rating by the NRA [National Rifle Association] and a 100 percent rating by national right to life groups, Portman said big governments spawn big scandals which only result in a loss of freedoms.
Portman, a former Congressman from Cincinnati, tossed bite-sized pieces of GOP chunks to the guests, saying Washington can learn a lot from Ohio, who under Gov. Kasich has downsized government and boosted economic development. One of the 32 senators who voted against the immigration bill last week, Portman said the system is broken and that enforcement should be improved to win his vote. Portman, who some thought Romney should have chosen over Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, said losing last year means the GOP needs to get up, “knock off the dust” and fight for its values.
Bigger government means higher taxes, he said, adding that when government solves problems that results in “less freedoms for us.” He said Republicans will win again next year and in 2016. He said Gov. Kasich and down ticket Republicans will “do fine.”
Dinner guests were treated to a short video introducing Gov. Kasich. In it, Kasich compares the state to a grand old house, promising to restore it to its former grandeur.
The remarks Gov. Kasich offered Saturday night were not new, having made them at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida last year and at every Romney Ohio campaign stop he attended last year, when Romney lost Ohio to President Obama, virtually guaranteeing a second term. Taking the state’s rainy day fund from 89 cents to $1.1 billion is a favorite, even though critics say a good portion of those funds came from efforts by Gov. Strickland. The former 9-term Congressman from Central Ohio told ORP guests to “focus on the mountain top” and not be distracted by any twists and turns below.
“We’re doing pretty well helping people, aren’t we?” Gov. asked his audience. His critics think he’s done a terrible job of helping people, and believe the two-year budget he will sign tomorrow casts the die for two more years of pain and suffering for the middle class and for women. Gov. Kasich, like Yost, Mandel and Husted before him, said Democrats lost jobs and ran up debt.
Conservatives, Kasich said, put problem solving first and politics second. He said a swing of $10 billion in two years was impressive. “If Ohio can do it, maybe we can do it too,” he said of how others will see what Ohio has done. “As we make things better, everyone will prosper,” he said.
In her remarks, New Mexico Gov. Martinez said little different than what she said in Tampa last year. Recounting her family struggle to make ends meet, she said her Democratic parents lived from pay check to pay check, and that she changed her political stripes later in life as a prosecutor when she realized her valued aligned with Republican values.
“Show up, make your argument and give voters another choice,” Martinez said. She said the difference between a leader and a politician is that a politician says what’s needed to win an election but does something else later. Leaders like Gov. Kasich, she said, do what they promise to do.
By virtue of their status as Republican governors, both Kasich and Martinez are seen by many as possible players in the 2016 GOP effort to win back the White House. Kasich had a short-lived run for president in 2000, when Texas Gov. George W. Bush won the hearts, minds and wallets of Republicans.
In anticipation of her address to Ohio Republicans, New Mexico Democratic Chairman Sam Bergman called Gov. Martinez the most “cold-hearted governor in America.” New Mexico, he said, is in last place among all states for the well-being of children; 1st in the nation for child hunger, 2nd for adults. A report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in Baltimore, found New Mexico 50th among all states for the well-being of children. In each of the measured categories: economic well-being, health, education, family and community support of children, New Mexico came in at number 49 and when all categories were totaled—last place.
Ironically, Martinez spent time in her talk Saturday night on children’s needs, and why Republicans can help them.
As for her powers to create jobs, Bergman said with 42,000 jobs lost, New Mexico is the only western state not showing economic recovery. Albuquerque [ABQ], the state’s largest metro area, lost 900 jobs over the year for a negative .2 percent growth rate. The area’s construction sector, meanwhile, shed 400 jobs for a negative 2.2 percent growth rate. The report said New Mexico’s economy is the worst in 80 years, with “huge job and population losses, record commercial real estate vacancies”
Bergman said Gov. Martinez arranges photo-ops for purposes of a fundraiser, “with balloons and smiling kids.” The script, he said, “calls for sitting on the floor to speed read through a book, then a fast departure with a wave and a smile.” Martinez told GOP guests that just the other day she was at a summer basketball camp in ABQ, when a child asked to have his picture taken with her, which she of course agreed to do. When the child made a sign of the cross, she said that was why she “does what she does.”
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