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Republican Candidate Kasich Pitches A Middle Path To Vermonters

Kathleen Masterson
Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks to more than 400 people gathered in the Colchester High School auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 21.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich spoke to a packed auditorium of more than 400 people in Colchester in his second visit to Vermont on Saturday. The Republican presidential candidate pitched himself as a fiscally conservative moderate who would prioritize creating jobs. 

And Kasich broke from the GOP party line on issues of health care, welfare and climate change.

Dressed simply in a light blue sweater and slacks, Gov. Kasich portrayed himself as a go-getter who would bring common sense to the White House. Kasich said if he were elected to lead the country, his main focus would be on training workers to learn employable skills, creating jobs and getting rid of excessive regulations.

“There are so many mindless, stupid regulations,” he said. “Knock it off, and help small businesses to grow, because they are the ones that put our kids into jobs, and stop punishing them with excessive regulations.”

While Kasich’s calls for job creation and bringing together Republicans and Democrats were met with cheers, the audience also had some tough questions. 

One woman asked what he would do about government-mandated health care. Kasich didn’t directly respond to whether he would try to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He switched course by explaining how he expanded Medicaid in Ohio.

“We took Medicaid — these legislators will tell you that Medicaid is the toughest program to control — and we took the Medicaid from 10.5 percent growth down to 2.5 percent growth the second year I was governor," he said. "We didn’t take one person off the rolls, and we didn’t cut one benefit.”

Kasich also said that a part of Obamacare he would keep is the provision that insurers cannot deny people coverage because of preexisting conditions.

“I get criticized because some Democrats like me, so I just keep doing what I’m doing, and all you Democrats out there, you blue-collar Democrats, hardworking Democrats who feel the party has left you behind, come give me a vote.”

Credit Kathleen Masterson / VPR
Gregory Seward (right) pressed Gov. Kasich on what he would do to improve wait times for veterans seeking medical care.

Gregory Seward is a veteran, and he pressed Kasich on what he would do about the lengthy wait times that veterans face to get medical care.   

“It takes months between tests. We drive 90 minutes each way, there are disabled veterans over in the Northeast Kingdom that won’t go to White River Junction because, I’m going to go be down there, waste all day for one test and then they’re going to tell me to come back in three months.” 

Kasich agreed this was a big problem, and suggested that some veterans may be better off seeing other doctors outside of Veterans Affairs.

“I’m not totally convinced that going to private physicians is the answer,” said Seward. However, he said that while for years he has been a fan of Sen. Bernie Sanders, he is intrigued by Kasich and will consider the candidate.

"I thought he took gutsy stances, not necessarily the party line, and I like that about him. He seems like an independent thinker and I'm really interested to find more about him." -Mary Ellen Varhue, of Georgia, Vermont

The governor also fielded questions about climate change, where unlike many of his fellow Republican presidential candidates, he said the science shows that human activity is influencing the climate, and as a country we should focus more on renewable energy.

Kasich was not asked about the issue of abortion, but liberal media outlets have criticized the governor for intentionally scaling back women's access to care and abortions in Ohio.

Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kesha Ram critiqued the governor in a press release over the weekend:.

"With Governor John Kasich’s record of blocking women's access to health care and family planning, trying to deny Syrian refugees a sanctuary, and stalling progress on Ohio's renewable energy goals, I question his commitment to Vermont values and economic progress...Vermont has a proud history under Democratic leadership of supporting a woman's right to choose," Ram wrote.

But others credited the governor for not shying away from real issues. Mary Ellen Varhue is a science teacher from Georgia, Vermont. 

“I was really impressed with him. I thought he talked substantially about things, and I haven’t heard that a lot in some of the debates,” said Varhue.

“I thought he took gutsy stances, not necessarily the party line, and I like that about him. He seems like an independent thinker and I’m really interested to find more about him.”

Kasich spent the morning of South Carolina’s primary speaking with Vermont voters, but he told reporters his time was well spent. Vermont is one of a dozen states that will vote in the March 1 Super Tuesday primaries.

Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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