ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Ohio Gov. John Kasich talked jobs, education and the region's drug abuse epidemic during a visit to Whiteside's in St. Clairsville as he hit the campaign trail Friday in his 2014 re-election bid.
Kasich stopped at the car dealership Friday morning, where he addressed a crowd of about 50 before moving on to events in Marietta and Jackson and Pike counties.
He said he sees evidence of a rebounding economy as he travels through the Ohio Valley. The governor touted the state's $1.5 billion budget surplus and his administration's efforts to cut taxes and help small businesses thrive, but he said plenty of work remains to be done.
Photo by Ian Hicks/Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a campaign stop at Whiteside’s in St. Clairsville on Friday.
"We just have to grow jobs, and I hope that we'll see some benefit from the oil and gas industry, but we can't just rely on the oil and gas industry ... ," Kasich said. "This area looks like it's doing pretty well, but you go to Mingo Junction, to Steubenville, and you can see it's been difficult. But it's getting better."
The state needs to continue improving its education system, Kasich said, calling the state's rate of 41 percent of college students taking remedial courses "unacceptable." He said Ohio must make sure its students are prepared to fill the job openings that exist, that its teachers have more authority in the classroom and that its children have access to vocational education opportunities.
"For too long, we threw it out and said everybody has to go to college," he said of vocational education. "Everyone doesn't have to go to college."
Kasich also was questioned about cuts in state funding to local governments for infrastructure projects. He said local governments aren't struggling as mightily as some of his opponents may like people to believe, noting 97 percent of cities, counties and villages in Ohio ran a surplus during the last reporting period, with 92 percent reporting surpluses of 5 percent or greater.
He also took the opportunity to push his stalled plan to enact a 4.5-percent severance tax on natural gas drillers.
"If we do get a severance tax through (on oil and gas), we want some of the money to go to local infrastructure, if we can get the legislature off the dime," Kasich said.
The governor also fielded questions about drug abuse in the state. Kasich said police are being very aggressive in investigating and arresting drug dealers, and noted that local, county and state law enforcement agencies seem to have a better working relationship today than ever before.
Kasich said Ohio has made strides in limiting prescription drug abuse, but acknowledged that can have the unintended consequence of pushing people toward heroin, which is cheaper and more readily available. He said it's crucial to reach children at a young age and make them understand the dangers of drug addiction.
"My daughters are tired of my lectures, but it's so easy to get yourself trapped in that crap because of peer pressure and availablity," Kasich said.
Kasich's visit to the area comes on the heels of a disappointing July jobs report. Ohio saw its unemployment rate increase from 5.5 percent to 5.7 percent between June and July and lost more than 12,000 jobs, including 3,900 in the manufacturing sector, according to the state's Department of Job and Family Services.
"It's now clearer than ever why Governor Kasich wants to spend this race lobbing petty partisan attacks and avoiding reporters' questions about the kitchen table issues that affect Ohio's working families," said Kasich's opponent, Democrat Ed FitzGerald. "When it comes to helping Ohio's middle class, Governor Kasich's record is as unimpressive as this month's job report."
Despite a poor month of July, the governor pointed to overall job growth in Ohio under his administration, including 238,200 private sector jobs created since he took office in January 2011. The unemployment rate is also down 2 percent from the same time last year.
"We're not out of the woods yet, but a quarter million new jobs means (Ohio)'s overall jobs trend is overwhelmingly positive. Let's keep going," Kasich tweeted shortly after his St. Clairsville visit.