Medina, where Gov. John Kasich will deliver his State of the State, is one of Northeast Ohio’s wealthier and more politically conservative counties, but that’s not the whole story. ideastream’s Nick Castele spent a couple days reporting in Medina, and spoke with ideastream afternoon host Tony Ganzer.
TG: So Nick, why did the governor pick Medina?
NC: For one, to celebrate the career of House Speaker Williams Batchelder. He’s a Medina local, and he’s leaving office this year. But it’s hard to look at the location and not think about Kasich’s reelection bid. His democratic challenger hails from right here in Northeast Ohio -- Cuyahoga County Ed Fitzgerald. And this gives Kasich some exposure on FitzGerald's home turf.
TG: The thinking here, then, is that Kasich will get that reach into heavily democratic Cuyahoga County from a neighboring county that’s much more friendly to Republicans and presumably Kasich himself.
NC: Yes, in his 2010 race for governor Kasich handily defeated democratic governor Ted Strickland in Medina County, 58 percent to 38 percent. And many elected officials here are Republican, too. But they’re not all necessarily aligned with Kasich on every issue. I spoke with Republican County Commissioner Pat Geissman, who wasn't happy when the governor cut the local government fund in his first budget.
“I think if the governor had ever been a county commissioner, and realized how important those were, I don’t think he would have cut them as drastically as he did," Geissman said. "Of course, he didn’t do it all by himself. He had the legislature to approve all this.”
TG: Kasich will certainly highlight what he considers his economic successes tonight. How close does Medina County come to being a success story that he can talk about in his speech?
NC: Well, it’s considered wealthy, its median income is the second highest in Northeast Ohio – nearly $66,000. And according to George Zeller, who’s an economic analyst in Cleveland, it’s the only Northeast Ohio county to gain jobs since 2000. But when I talked to Zeller, he told me with cuts in manufacturing and government jobs, Medina’s slowing down.
“It’s very unusual to see the growth rate slow down in Medina County," Zeller said. "We don’t usually see that. Over the long run, Medina County’s been the best county in all of Ohio for growth. But right now, Medina County is actually losing employment.”
NC: And a study by the Center for Community Solutions from 2011 found Medina is the second most unequal county in terms of income in our region. And that worries advocates for lower income people there. I spoke with Sandy Calvert, who runs Feeding Medina County – they distribute food from food banks. There have been some cuts and eligibility changes in the food stamp program. And she’s worried about who will meet the need.
“We’re seeing more of a need for a charitable response here in the community, and it’s very difficult for small nonprofits to continue to meet that need," Calvert said.
TG: So, a mixture of wealth with poverty and hunger in the county. How are things in the city of Medina?"
NC: Well, according to Mayor Dennis Hanwell, who is a Republican, things are looking up in the city. He’s made it very clear – even writing an op-ed in the Plain Dealer – that he’s delighted to have the governor bring the state-of-the-state address to his city, and highlights some of the positives he’s been seeing.
“We’ve had a number of new businesses come into the community, the square in particular," Hanwell said. "It’s a place people want to be because there’s always activities there. The industry, we’ve seen a number of our major facilities expand and bring in new equipment.”
TG: If there appears to be a divide between employment levels and growth, will the governor shy away from talk of jobs? He must have a card to play in the jobs discussion, given as important an issue as that is?
NC: We may see that here with JobsOhio, which is the private job creation entity that governor Kasich created in his first year in office. it’s taking credit for helping six businesses in Medina County create 356 jobs since 2011 – and helping them retain 705.
TG: Nick Castele, thank you.
NC: My pleasure.
TG: Nick will be heading to Medina tonight to cover Gov. Kasich’s speech. You can hear it here on WCPN at 7 p.m., or watch our live coverage on WVIZ PBS.