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With Kasich On Campaign Trail, Who's Governing Ohio?

Ohio Gov. John Kasich campaigning for president
Thomas Bradley

Running for president is a marathon of rallies, town halls, and speeches, and it means a lot of time away from home. For Governor Kasich, that means a lot of time away from the governor’s office, and that has some wondering who’s leading the state during his campaign. 

Ever since Gov. John Kasich made his presidential campaign official in July, and even before that, when he spending days in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and other states, and when he was on the Sunday morning talk shows nearly every weekend, a question has been coming up: Who's running the state when Kasich isn't here?

And it’s not just being raised by Ohioans, since there are four sitting Republican governors running for president.

Last week, at his first in person news conference in his role as governor in more than a month, Kasich said the answer to who is in charge when he’s not here is simple: “Me.” He adds, “There’s these things called ‘telephones’, ‘cell phones’. And I’m constantly working with all the staff, and I’m back here.”

But with four sitting governors running for president, Ohioans aren’t the only ones asking ‘who is the state’s chief executive?’ when the one who was elected to that position is on the campaign trail.

“That question comes up a lot in Wisconsin,” says Shawn Johnson, the Capitol Reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio. Gov. Scott Walker made his official presidential announcement the week before Kasich did – but like Kasich, he’d spent a lot of time on the road before that.

So Johnson says Walker has heard the question of who is in charge when he’s not around before.

“When you ask the governor, he says he is. He says that with modern technology, it’s no longer as important to physically be at the Capitol, that he can keep in touch with his staff and legislative leaders by phone, by text messages, by e-mail, all while he’s on the road. Because we’re run by Republicans at all levels of state government, leaders there typically agree with the governor and they say it’s no big deal,” Johnson says.

But Johnson says Democrats, who’s had many public battles with Walker, have also criticized him as an absentee governor. Ohio’s Democrats have made similar statements as they’ve blasted Kasich mostly on policy issues, such as charter schools and job creation.

Other than Treasurer Josh Mandel, who’s endorsed Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Ohio’s Republican officeholders have been very supportive of Kasich’s presidential campaign. Senate President Keith Faber, Attorney General Mike DeWine, Auditor David Yost and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor are all co-chairs of Kasich’s Ohio campaign team. Secretary of State Jon Husted says he supports Kasich but, as Ohio’s elections chief, he can’t play an official role in Kasich’s campaign.

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger hasn’t officially endorsed any presidential candidate. But Rosenberger worked for former President George W. Bush, the brother of current candidate Jeb Bush. 

Some have wondered if Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor is actually the chief executive when Kasich’s out of state – especially since she seems to be appearing at more public events than she did in Kasich’s first term. But at a ribbon cutting at a distribution facility west of Columbus last month, Taylor said her duties haven’t changed much since Kasich launched his bid for president.

“The governor and I have always switched back and forth between events depending on what our schedules look like,” Taylor said.

And Taylor says the administration continues to stay in touch with legislative leaders when Kasich is not home.

And like Kasich and Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is dealing with state lawmakers in leadership who are Republicans. But in New Jersey, where Democrats run the legislature, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has full gubernatorial authority when Chris Christie is campaigning.

In fact, last month when Christie was in Cleveland for the GOP candidates’ debate, she signed several bills and for the first time, used her veto power to reject one.