The New York Times carried an excellent article this weekend about how the GOP became the anti-city party. The point was, actually, that waging a culture war against urban areas–where 80 percent of the country lives–might not be such a smart move, even from a purely political stance. The party’s 2012 platform makes almost no mention of cities, outside of the usual dog-whistling. The Times estimates that Mitt Romney’s chances of winning this election are 15 percent.
As far as political antagonism toward cities goes, I don’t feel like I need to go into citing hundreds of examples (Newt Gingrich saying only “elites” ride the subway, Sarah Palin’s “real Americans” live in small towns nonsense). But what it made me think of more than anything was Ohio Governor John Kasich. No one has practiced this cities-are-the-enemy tripe more passionately than this former Fox News contributor from Westerville.
His first act as governor–killing the 3C rail connection between Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus–was a particularly senseless “fuck you” to the state’s cities. The project, after all, came with $400 million in federal funding–enough to put a fair amount of the state’s unemployed construction workers back on payroll during the worst economic crisis in a generation. What’s more, the project would have cost the state just $17 million a year to operate, or less than what ODOT currently spends to mow freeway medians. Or about .005 percent of ODOT’s budget, or $1.50 per person, per year.
This is a state where more than 1 million people don’t drive. But spending billions on highways is somehow considered responsible, while spending a tiny fraction of that on something more sustainable and efficient is considered frivolous in the warped Tea Party line of thinking from which John Kasich draws his power. The 3C rail project was strongly supported by the political leadership in all the state’s largest cities, which you would think would count for something. These, after all, are the core of the regions that bring in the majority of the state’s wealth, and house a majority of its population. But no. Actively antagonizing these places is more John Kasich’s style.
He continued sticking it to Ohio’s major employment centers when he attacked the Cincinnati Streetcar, stripping $50 million in promised state money and even pursuing the unprecedented action of inserting a rider into the state budget that forbid any state money going toward the project. Nevermind that Cincinnati voters had twice endorsed the project. Or that some of its biggest supporters were University of Cincinnati students, a demographic Kasich has claimed he is working hard to retain. (Stepping on the interests of University of Cincinnati students is a small price to pay, you see, for striking a blow to the “liberal agenda,” of which public transportation has somehow sadly become entangled.)
As someone who actually considered voting for John Kasich two years ago, I have been shocked at how mean-spirited, how callous he can be toward cities, or to some of his other perceived political enemies more generally. This is a governor who considered refusing federal disaster aid after tornados ravaged parts of the southern half of the state. That presumably was a “fuck you” to Obama, because it’s not clear how Ohio would have benefitted from refusing federal aid in a time of disaster.
But that’s John Kasich. He is a better culture warrior than a governor. He likes to see things in the simplest terms: “cities bad,” “federal government bad,” when Ohio desperately needs a pragmatist that can seize on every possible investment. We need every bit of help we can get.
Ohio, despite the governor’s recent publicity tour, is in tough shape. We need a really good governor who can bridge some of the urban-suburban-rural divides that have helped turn our once-proud cities into national laughing stocks, or poster children for decay. We need someone attuned to the needs of the nation’s young people. But that man is not John Kasich. He has demonstrated over and over again that his loyalties reside not with the people of Ohio, but with a set of ideologies that bear little relationship to the state’s problems.
I am part of the demographic he seems to loathe especially passionately–an unmarried woman in her 20s who considers herself a feminist and lives in a city. But here’s the thing: I am a tech worker who works remotely from Cleveland. I could live anywhere in the country. My paychecks come from New York and Washington. That makes me a “job creator” for the state of Ohio. That earns me and my interests approximately zero respect in this state.
I would prefer to live in a city that didn’t require I own a car (hippie!) that’s actually a big part of the reason I ended up in Cleveland–the biggest urban center in my home state. And if 3C rail would have happened, I probably could have pulled that off. Instead, every time I visit my family in Columbus and Toledo I am forced to pay 68 cents a mile in gas, wear and tear, and depreciation. I am essentially forced to do something I hate–drive–and pay an involuntary tax called car ownership because John Kasich and his buddies don’t like trains. Score one for them in their imaginary battle against their ideological enemies Obama and Ted Strickland. But in the meantime, it’s people like me who pay the price–exactly the kind of people Ohio shouldn’t be alienating.
More and more I ask myself, what am I doing here? Does Ohio have a future? And I’m not sure. I watch antics like the ones John Kasich endorses–Michigan now has a train that travels 90 miles per hour between Detroit and Kalamazoo on the way to Chicago–and I really feel uncertain or foolish for staying here.
I don’t have a lot of power. But, like I said, I considered voting for this guy in the last election. In the next election, I would do anything within my power to see John Kasich replaced with someone who isn’t actively antagonistic toward all my values. I will donate. I will knock on doors. Anyone but John Kasich in 2014.
Ohio desperately needs someone who can govern. Instead we elected a set of ideologies in a suit, with a gratingly arrogant swagger.