COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich isn’t discouraging residents in Ohio and around the country from participating in public protests.
But the Republican governor did urge those discontent with state or federal policies to be constructive in their criticism and not hateful.
“I think that protesting is part of the American tradition,” Kasich told reporters attending a legislative and political preview day organized by the Ohio Associated Press. “It’s just what we don’t want to do is develop hate.”
He added, “We all, all of us, including me, need to hear what other people have to say, even when we don’t like it… What do you think we’re going to accomplish by hating other people? … You can go out and protest, but don’t go out there with a vengeance.”
Kasich and legislative leaders were asked Wednesday at the AP event about protests against President Donald Trump and his policies. Lawmakers on hand said the ongoing protests should spur residents here to get more involved in their state government.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman), who has expressed an interesting in running for governor in two years, said he has been talking to residents across the state about the current national political tone.
“Everybody wants to know… what they can do,” he said. “They want to understand where they can go in order to have their voices heard. For me, it’s important that I give them that platform to come down to the Statehouse and testify on different bills that are going to affect them directly. And having real people’s perspective is so important for legislators, and so I’m constantly trying to organize and get people down to the Statehouse so that they feel that they’re a part of the process.”
House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) said incendiary rhetoric during the presidential campaign helped to spur protests in Ohio and nationally. People are concerned about the impact of Trump’s executive orders on immigration and other issues.
“That kind of stuff really heightens people’s fears in already tough times for a lot of people,” Strahorn said. “Even though the economy’s bounced back, that doesn’t necessarily reflect how hard people are working to make ends meet. You add all that stuff up, it’s very volatile.”
He added, “I think everybody, including the administration, need to kind of bring the temperature down a little bit and focus on the work. And if it doesn’t, I suspect this will go on for the next four years.”
While protesters have focused more on Trump and the federal government, Ohio lawmakers, more often than not, are in agreement on issues, said Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell), who serves as chairman of the House’s Finance Committee.
“I hope we recognize that the state level operates a little differently,” he said. “We disagree on some things. We agree on a lot… We’re going to work together here.”
Sen. Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) acknowledged residents’ frustration. He said office-holders should make sure they’re in regular contact with their constituents.
“Oftentimes, some of the best ideas you get for legislation will come from somebody that has read something or has a particular issue that they’re dealing with,” he said. “Many times at the state level, you can follow through with that, and they see that and they see the system working.”
He added, “Many, many of our bills are bipartisan in the state Senate, I want to say close to 90 percent, because they’re just good government bills that both parties can agree on… I can’t tell you how many times constituents from Stark County have come down, observed the Senate, observed the courtesy — that we’re not screaming at each other and calling each other names — the roll call’s taken and it’s basically unanimous… I think we’re trying to show at the state level that the system can work.”