Protesters react to Kasich’s State of the State

Photo by Nikolas Kolenich

Photo by Nikolas Kolenich

Jessica White

KentWired Video

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Hundreds of protesters joined Gov. John Kasich at the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday during his widely anticipated State of the State address.

Teachers, firefighters and other union supporters chanted, “Shame on you!” and “Bring back Ted (Strickland)!” in continued opposition to Senate Bill 5.

The bill, which has become a central issue of Kasich’s administration, proposes to change collective bargaining for public employees. When Kasich mentioned reforming collective bargaining in his speech, several people began to “boo.”

“People who feel strongly, I respect them,” Kasich said following the boos.

“But you don’t respect us!” a protester yelled in response.

Kasich then said protesters need to “respect others who don’t always agree,” drawing cheers from supporters.

Several firefighters from Barberton drove to the Statehouse to join the rally outside. The men were in uniform and wore anti-bill signs on their helmets.

“(Kasich) is hurting the middle class, and we’re the ones funding his budget,” said firefighter Rick Schwenning. “I’d rather pay more taxes than have my rights taken away.”

Aside from removing collective bargaining rights, Kasich also focused on solutions to Ohio’s deficit and touched on plans to improve higher education in his speech. Kasich said he plans to restructure the mental health system, Medicaid and the criminal sentencing process — all to save money.

As for education, Kasich said, “More choice, more accountability, more dollars in the classroom instead of in bureaucracy will improve our schools.” He didn’t explain how he will enforce these guidelines.

Although Kasich’s education plans are unclear, President Lester Lefton said he was encouraged by the address.

“We recognize that Gov. Kasich understands Ohio’s challenging economic situation and that he also understands higher education is an important part of revitalizing the economy,” Lefton wrote in an e-mail statement.

Lefton said he appreciated Kasich’s mention of Kent State as one of Ohio’s assets. He also said he liked the governor’s goal to keep more students in the state and reduce “brain drain.”

Although Kasich seemed confident about his plans to save money, he said the state’s $8 billion budget deficit can’t be saved by restructuring alone.

“Oh, there will be cuts,” he said.

But Kasich said he will try to provide tools to help those affected by any cuts.

“I understand that the governor has some tough decisions he has to make and that he is taking great care in making those decisions,” Lefton said, “putting politics aside and stressing the need to work together.”

Contact Jessica White [email protected]