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Why Are Ohio Lawmakers Sending Kasich Bills He Plans To Veto?

Damian Dovarganes
Associated Press

As state lawmakers race toward the end of this lame duck legislative session, they’ve been considering two bills that Gov. John Kasich opposes: the six-week “Heartbeat Bill” abortion ban and the “Stand Your Ground” self-defense bill. 

If Kasich vetoes them as promised, lawmakers would have to come back to vote on them again during the holiday break.

Kasich has been clear about the Heartbeat Bill – he vetoed a similar bill in 2016. He’s also warned lawmakers not to send him the Stand Your Ground bill. The version that passed both chambersdoesn’t eliminate the “duty to retreat” provision, but still shifts the burden to prove self-defense to prosecutors.

Now Kasich won’t say what he’ll do with the bill, which doesn’t tackle the “common sense” gun regulations that Kasich demanded.

“I don’t want to do that now,” Kasich says. “Everybody knows how strongly I feel about all this and when the time is right – it’s like fine wine. It will be revealed when it’s read.”

These veto threats haven’t stopped legislative leaders from pushing the bills forward. The change to “Stand Your Ground” came in the Ohio Senate, and president Larry Obhof (R-Medina) said he and his Republican supermajority wanted that to pass along with the Heartbeat Bill.

“I actually drafted it in its similar format two years ago,” Obhof said. “I’m supportive of the bill. Most members are supportive of the bill.”

House Speaker Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) said abortion and gun rights are big concerns for his constituents, regardless of how Kasich feels about these bills.

“Clearly he hasn’t campaigned in my area, because those are all important issues, as they are to our caucus. And what I would say is, we’re a separate branch of government,” Smith said. “The will of the caucus is the will of the caucus, and what the governor does is what he’s going to do, but that won’t affect our direction.”

For years, the Ohio legislature has passed bills limiting abortion rightsand expanding gun rights, so in a way, these bills aren’t a huge surprise. Conservative lawmakers have long expressed  frustration with Kasich, over what they see as overreaches in spending and with Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, Kasich’s national profile grew during his run for president and beyond, as he modeled himself as a bipartisan bargainer.  

That leaves the question: Is the decision to pass these bills, only to have to come back and override vetoes, really about Republicans’ relationship with Kasich? The governor suggested recently that he wants to talk about that tension, but can’t right now.

“The first seven years were really ‘can do.’ And we’ve been, there’s been a bogging down here,” Kasich said. “I’ll have much more to say about that at some point in the future.”

Obhof also hinted at some distance with Kasich, telling reporters recently, “I haven’t spoken to the governor about firearms in months.” When pressed on when he last spoke to the governor, Obhof said, “I don’t remember the date.”

Smith even publicly implied, before a gathering of commissioners and engineers from Ohio’s 88 counties, that lawmakers are looking forward to a new governor. They can’t even get Kasich’s agreement on a possible salary increase for state, county and local elected officials.

“It’s also not welcomed by this administration that we take on a pay raise bill right now, probably to the extent that they’ll try to veto that,” Smith said. “So, I only say that because this is not surprising to this group. It’s been consistent with what we’ve dealt with in a lot of ways.”

The pay raise would have to be voted on now or elected officials would have to wait another two years for an increase. But some bills are moving quickly, because the budget will be the top priority for lawmakers starting when they’re sworn in in January.

While incoming governor Mike DeWine said during the campaign that he would support both “Stand Your Ground” and the “Heartbeat Bill,” there are no guarantees. DeWine even sounded a bit cagey when asked about those bills recently.

“There’s only one governor at a time. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the governor of the state of Ohio today. I’m not,” DeWine said. “For many, many purposes, people can look to our campaign and look to my long career and my positions of, you have a pretty good idea of what I think about different issues. But I’m not going to comment specifically on any legislation today.”

Overall, the long-suspected strained relationship between lawmakers and the governor is quite a departure from just two years ago, when many campaigned for Kasich and helped him win the Ohio presidential primary.

It’s even further from when Kasich took office in 2011. Within two months, lawmakers created the development office JobsOhio at his direction. That year, Kasich took the heat when voters overwhelmingly rejected a collective bargaining reform law that most Republican lawmakers wanted.