Blacks should shun Ohio gov who ‘doesn’t need them’

What does one make of a governor who in 2011 flatly tells respected representative group of his state’s black legislators that “I don’t need your people?” This is the same governor who blew off the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s invitation to attend the tenth annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration while he was in the city. The same governor who one of his first acts on taking office was to strike “gender identity” from his predecessor’s executive order that prohibited discrimination against state employees. Then he tops all of this by becoming the first governor in the state in nearly a half century not to appoint a single African-American, Hispanic, or Asian person to his cabinet.

The governor is Ohio GOP governor John Kasich. The governor loudly protested when confronted with his racial callousness, gender insensitivity, and flat out borderline bigotry. He claimed he tried to get a couple of blacks in his cabinet but said they turned him down. He said he didn’t mean “your people” as in the textbook racial pejorative “you people” but rather was referring to the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus when its members complained about his lily white cabinet.

Kasich rolled back the clock to another time and place in the country’s history when a governor’s idea of diversity was to choose white men of different sizes, shapes, eye and hair color to their cabinets, as appointees, officials and agency heads. Kasich seemed happily oblivious and comfortable with his white only picks, and judging from his smack down of the Black Caucus, defiant. Normally, this could be chalked up to one politician’s ignorance and stupidity. But that’s too simple.

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Ohio is not Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire or North Dakota where blacks make up a minuscule percent of the population. Blacks and minorities make up more than one out of five Ohio voters. They were a politically potent force in tipping the state to Barack Obama in 2008; a state that Bush won twice in 2000 and 2004. That victory sealed the White House for him. This is the key to understanding why a governor in such a racially diverse state, with a sizable black population and electorate, would look, sound, and act like the second coming of the pre-racial epiphany George Wallace. Kasich’s bigotry is politically motivated and calculated. Ohio is the state that’s considered a crucial gateway to the White House. And with the GOP strategists, campaign and party officials gearing up for a full court press to unseat Obama in 2012, Ohio looms bigger than ever in the GOP’s strategy.

The first part of the strategy was wresting the governorship from Democrat Ted Strickland. Kasich did that. But having the governorship is not enough. Kasich must energize the state’s white, conservative, and evangelical base in 2012, the same way that Obama and the state’s Democrats were able to energize African-American voters in 2012. This requires several ploys. One is that the governor take the standard tough guy, talk back to Democrats and especially black voters. This reassures conservatives that state government is not in the hands of “special interests” i.e. blacks, Latinos, and gays.

Next, he must burnish his Tea Party like credentials at every turn through executive orders, budget and deficit austerity focus, reduced spending, gun ownership, and the slash and burn of health, education, and welfare programs. Then he must clearly draw the battle lines in the state legislature and state government between Democrats and the GOP. Finally he must play the race card through open and subtle attacks on “diversity.” That’s still the loathsome buzz word for ultra-conservatives that stokes their visceral passions and dislikes. In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election if Kasich can sufficiently polarize the state’s electorate along gender and racial lines the GOP sees this as a winning tactic to put Ohio back in the GOP column again.

There’s of course no guarantee that any of this will work. The state’s Democrats and minority voters are still a formidable force, and race can work as easily against the GOP as for it. Kasich’s heavy handed snub and apparent disdain for minority voters could trigger a backlash. This would heighten their determination to keep the state in the Democratic presidential column in 2012 and their even greater determination to make Kasich a one term governor.

The seeds of the backlash against Kasich and the GOP are firmly planted. The Ohio Legislative Black Caucus clearly was at their wit’s end when they publicly called Kasich out on his failure to embrace diversity. The challenge now is for them to use his bigotry and intransigent words and actions against him and the GOP. They’ll have plenty of chances to do that in the coming months. In other words, it’s time for blacks to tell a governor that says he doesn’t need them, they don’t need him.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts national Capitol Hill broadcast radio talk show on KTYM Radio Los Angeles and WFAX Radio Washington D.C. streamed on and and internet TV broadcast on Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: