Last week’s unemployment report is good news for Ohio’s incumbent Governor John Kasich, a Republican. According to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, the state’s jobless rate dropped to 6.5% in February. This is the lowest mark in roughly six years.
For Gov. Kasich, the new figure would seem to be good news, even though 6.5% is still considered higher than desired historically. While unemployment statistics come with numerous components that can be painted in one way or another—for instance, the total number of jobs declined in the state in February—the 6.5% mark, assuming it remains or drops in the coming months, will provide the governor with another bullet point to support his case for reelection.
Overall, Kasich’s case is pretty straightforward. He won election in a time of economic chaos, and while conditions are not yet ideal, the direction is mostly positive, and the progress clear.
Kasich took office with high unemployment and a deep state budget deficit. In 2009, Ohio’s jobless rate stood at 10.2%, well above the national rate of 9.3%, as well as an $8 billion state budget gap.
More than three years into Kasich's term, conditions have improved markedly. The current 6.5% unemployment rate is below the national average, meaning that Ohio has gone from above to below the national unemployment mark in that time. (Ohio currently ranks first in job growth.)
As for the state’s $8 billion budget deficit: it, too is gone. In fact, Ohio is running a $1.5 billion budget surplus. Kasich’s early work in this area led to an upgrade in the state’s credit rating, too.
Kasich, of course, has critics with legitimate axes to grind. Organized labor will never—ever—forget the Senate Bill 5 affair, which landed Kasich with an early (and perhaps only major) political wound.
Democrats are also grasping at a change to the Homestead property tax exemption, which is applied to the first $25,000 of valuation on a property. Moving forward, property owners who turn 65 will only qualify for the exemption if their incomes fall below $30,000 per year. Those who currently qualify will still qualify, even though Democrats are saying publicly—including likely gubernatorial nominee Ed FitzGerald—that Kasich “repealed” the exemption.
Still, Kasich’s case for reelection is strong. The numbers point in the right direction, and he’s the incumbent. His prospective opponent thus far seems a weak candidate, although it is too early to say that with any degree of certainty. Plus, 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for the GOP at the ballot box, with a second-term Democrat holding the White House. For now, John Kasich’s chances look promising.