Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich is working to promote conservative ideology leavened with liberal policies meant to help the poor, the mentally ill, and the uninsured.
Kasich, 61, a former Lehman Brothers executive who was elected in 2010 after being out of politics for a decade, wants to rebrand the Republican Party by refashioning what it means to be a conservative in the 21st century, The Wall Street Journal reports
"I have a chance to shape what it means to be a Republican," Kasich told the Journal in a recent interview. "I have a chance to show what it means to be successful economically but also to have a compassionate side, a caring side, to help lift people up."
For instance, Kasich transformed the state's $7.7 billion budget deficit into a $2.5 billion surplus by slashing funding to local governments and overhauling the state's Medicaid rules.
The surplus led the governor this week to sign what he called "the biggest tax cut in the country," the Journal reports.
Kasich, who faces re-election next year and a possible White House run in 2016, also has eliminated Ohio's estate tax and wants to phase out all state income taxes, which he believes would stimulate growth.
A budget he signed in June included a range of new abortion restrictions that drew sharp criticism from Democrats.
But the governor has brought strong opposition from tea-party leaders — and won surprised approval from liberals — by working to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly 300,000 additional Ohio residents, adopting a provision of Obamacare that he vigorously defends.
He also has steered millions more dollars into local food banks, forced insurance companies to provide coverage for children with autism, and signed legislation to make it easier for recently released felons to clear their names and find jobs, the Journal reports.
Some of Kasich's decisions, however, have riled onetime tea-party supporters.
"Kasich is so far off the reservation, it's incredible," said Tom Zawistowski, a prominent conservative leader from the Akron area who campaigned for Kasich in 2010, told the Journal.
Zawistowski said he promised "to work to un-elect him" next year.
But Kasich's Republican allies say that Ohio voters are seeing a compassionate streak that has been part of his personality all along.
"People are finally waking up to what John Kasich is: a blunt, hard-nosed but very contemplative problem solver," Doug Preisse, GOP chairman for the county surrounding Columbus, told the Journal.
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