Ohio’s first family knows all about the limelight.
We watched Governor John Kasich, his wife Karen and their teen daughters, Emma and Reese bask in it during a visit with the guest families at the Ronald McDonald House. They say opportunities to visit with family members of sick children receiving care at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, without a media gaggle, confirm the importance of family.
“We think Ronald McDonald House is so special because these families can stay together in very troubled times—sometimes that’s all you’ve got is your family,” said Karen Kasich.
Gov. Kasich agreed, “This is a healing place, it’s a sanctuary. It’s fantastic and I’m so glad we could be a little part of this thing.”
The exclusive access granted 10TV extended to a rare opportunity to sit down with Gov. Kasich and his wife at the residence in Bexley to talk about their family life. It was clear from the start - he runs the state, but she runs the house.
“We have some rules: He doesn’t come home talking on the phone—can’t walk in the door on the phone and everything from something like that to the kids come first,” Karen Kasich told us.
“I’m glad we stayed at home instead of down here and life is normal and cool and we really haven’t changed much,” said Gov. John Kasich.
In fact, the Kasichs pride themselves on being what they call ‘normal’—refusing from the start to move their daughters into the state-owned and operated Governor’s mansion. Instead, they opted to remain in their Westerville area home with the girls attending private Christian school.
During our interview, Gov. Kasich emphasized that his is a normal family unaffected by life in the public eye. The family did learn however, the public eye can cast the harshest glare as it happened in 2011: when for as much as Kasich says he appreciates the average family, it appeared to critics he forgot about them when he signed Senate Bill 5 into law. It limited collective bargaining for public employees like police officers, firefighters, and teachers. The legislation was labeled a ‘job killer’ by opponents and hundreds of them packed the Ohio statehouse in protest.
I asked Kasich about being considered a polarizing figure with a reputation for being out of touch, “Well I don’t know …well, maybe—Jim Rhodes [61st and 63rd Ohio governor] lived in Upper Arlington, whatever. I live in a community and beyond what when somebody would say I’m out of touch I mean I grew up—I’m the son of a mailman. I mean I didn’t grow up with a lineage of political types or wealth or any of that other stuff.”
Kasich cannot claim political lineage, but he certainly carries significant political weight in the Republican Party. His career started in the Ohio Senate but he quickly moved on to Washington DC where he served nine terms in Congress. In fact, Kasich was chairman of the House Budget Committee during the government shutdown of 1995. I asked him what advice he’d offer lawmakers who recently embattled in the partial shutdown of 2013.
“It’s not the way American should conduct its activities. We’ve had shutdowns before only to see things opened up and be able to achieve something. When you’re going to fight on principle, make sure it’s really on principal and not on your ego.”
Principle has put the governor at odds here at home with many in his own party because he pushed for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
“You got to help people who live in the shadows. You have to help people who legitimately need help. People look at Medicaid expansion—Karen’s got this great program at the food banks—it’s just Old and New Testament values. You help people who live on the margins; doesn’t it feel good to do that?” Kasich said.
Karen Kasich would answer yes. Her own work as Ohio’s First Lady does include an Ohio food bank project for feeding hungry children during summer months. She is also rolling out what’s called “Time for Ten”—a series of five free ten minute fitness videos aimed at teaching children heart health.
“They really break up the day because research has shown short bits of exercise during the day helps to stimulate your mind, helps you focus more and helps you burn those little calories off,” she said.
Mrs. Kasich’s focus is personal because both her parents died from complications of heart disease. The governor’s parents were killed in a car crash. Gov. Kasich shared with us that the loss of his mother and father has shaped him.
“My parents were killed in 1987. I spent 25 years, and Karen will say you keep reading all of these complicated books on faith, your brains going to turn to mush. I believe that the Lord has His hand on all of us, He has a plan for all of us and our job is to help repair the world.”
The loss of her parents was difficult for Karen Kasich. She said it created a new reality, “I think when you’ve lost both of your parents and you wake up one day and you realize, whoa, it’s a big, big world out there and you want to do what you can to make that world smaller for other people whether that’s providing what they need or being a friend or just slowing down a little bit and realizing it’s not going to last forever and it’s not all about you.”
Gov. Kasich shared during the 10TV exclusive interview that he was very close to Karen’s parents. It was her mother who urged her to study up in preparation for her first date with Kasich.
“When I told her this congressman asked me out to lunch, she said ‘You need to get Newsweek right away. You don’t know anything.’” As it turned out, Karen Kasich’s mother would send her a copy of Newsweek magazine every Christmas.
The Kasichs have been married 16 years and say packed schedules and politics do not overshadow their greatest concern which is for Emma and Reese. They were ten when their dad took office. The twins are now teenagers.
Their parents describe them as typical 13 year olds. One is interested in politics and public affairs, the other is not. The reality for the girls is that they will not see their father out of politics any time soon. The 2014 governor’s race is right around the corner. At least one nonpartisan poll shows Kasich with a high job approval rating.
When asked if he was ready for a race that Democrats and Republicans agree will be a tough one he says, he’s not worrying about it.
“Here’s the way it works: when you’re an incumbent, people judge the job you did and if they don’t like what you did they look at the alternative and judge the alternative, “ he said.
Ohio’s 69th governor says his record is proof he has done a good job. Ultimately, voters will have the final say in November of 2014.