John Kasich visited campus as the third speaker of the 2019 Lind Initiative Speaker Series. This talk was also jointly delivered with the UBC Connects Speaker Series, presented by UBC President Santa Ono.
Kasich is best known as the former Governor of Ohio from 2011 to 2019, where his administration managed to revamp the Ohioan economy by closing a $8 billion budget shortfall without a tax increase. Before being elected Governor, Kasich served 18 years as a Member of Congress and four years as a Ohio State Senator. He has also authored several books and is currently a Senior Political Commentator at CNN.
Kasich joined students on campus for two events during his visit. He first led an open discussion, where students asked him about his policymaking experience and his political positions. In the evening, he delivered a talk with stories on his political career, and since this is a series on America and the Climate Crisis, he also gave his suggestions on how to form meaningful environmental policy. I had the privilege of attending both Kasich’s discussion and talk.
One can easily tell that Kasich is a seasoned speaker and skilled in inspiring his audience. He spoke of his childhood, his opportunity meeting with President Nixon when he was still a freshman at Ohio State, as well as his path working his way up in politics. He encouraged students that if they wanted to see meaningful change in society, they must be the ones who deliver it. Drawing back to his decades-long experience in politics, Kasich stated that he had never seen decision-makers from the top levels of government provide impactful change.
Kasich lamented what he called ‘politics of destruction,’ in which the polarization of American politics has forced politicians to move further left or right or risk being primaried from that position. During his talk, he encouraged students to find something in common with individuals they disagree with.
On economic and political inequality, Kasich believed that there are too many current policies that help disappearing sectors. However, those who are left out lose hope so more policies should be introduced to allow people to transition from declining industries. He also decried the idea of government becoming too influenced by powerful actors, in which they are deciding ‘the winners and losers’ while the input of most Americans are never acknowledged.
Lastly, Kasich also provided tidbits of foreign policy commentary during his discussion with students. On Canada’s recent struggles to maintain good relations with the US on trade, Kasich advised that Trudeau should meet with selected members of the US Congress, instead of negotiating directly with the White House to sort out trade talks. On trade with China, Kasich believed that the nation should remain a key trade partner with the US. However, he stated that it is imperative that the US set and enforce clear rules as he accused China of stealing intellectual property.
But since the speaker series is on the climate crisis, the environment was the biggest issue of the night. On climate change, Kasich stated that policymakers should just ignore climate change deniers, and invest all efforts into working with people that are already tackling the issue. However, he dismissed the Green New Deal as a pipe dream and invoked right-wing talking points, arguing that it is ‘socialist’ and centralises government power. He countered by arguing for a cap and trade system or carbon tax to limit emissions, while increasing subsidies for the production of electric vehicles.
It was clear that Kasich wanted the American government to contribute more in combating climate change. However, as most climatologists have suggested, his proposals of levying carbon taxes and increasing funding for renewable technology are simply not enough to meet commitments in the Paris Agreement, but also keep warming levels below global goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Kasich believes that incrementally moving away from fossil fuels is still viable option, even when the world is currently on track to become 2.5 degrees hotter before we stop producing further emissions. For Kasich to reject the Green New Deal means that not only does he not understand its provisions, he does not grasp the extent of the climate crisis as well.
The Green New Deal is not a set of ambitious policies, it is simply an inquiry into what needs to be done in order for the US to quickly become completely carbon-free, and how the country protect can people that lose their jobs when the economy is free of fossil fuels. The Green New Deal fully recognizes the fact that many Americans will suffer during this transition, and offers solutions on how to support workers with jobs at risk while keeping inequality from worsening. Kasich even addressed earlier that he believed the government should help workers who are still working in declining industries, so why did he denounce the proposal?
John Kasich is a brilliant speaker who from his speech, showed that he is genuinely frustrated with the current state of American politics and eagerly wanted students to be the future changemakers that will bridge the divide we see today. However, when it came to environmental and social issues, many of his ideas still fell under the umbrella of the Republican Party’s establishment. The current fight for climate action in the US will only stagnate if any of Kasich’s policies are taken into consideration.
The Phil Lind Initiative is an annual speaker series led by the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. Funded by Rogers Vice-Chair Philip Lind, the series focuses on a new policy theme each year, and invites academics and professionals across interdisciplinary fields. To find out more, visit the official website.
This post has also been published on The Pub, the online magazine authored by Master students at the UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs (SPPGA).
Photos courtesy of the SPPGA.