WESTERVILLE – Gov. John Kasich traded the podium for a pulpit in his final State of the State address Tuesday, expounding on the values of compassion and love rather than his ideas for state policies.
Kasich, almost like a valedictorian giving a graduation speech, spoke about humility, personal responsibility and justice.
"This is one of the craziest times in this country I’ve ever seen in my lifetime," Kasich said, lamenting political division.
Much of the 54-minute speech was written at a local pizza restaurant. He didn't mention his possible presidential ambitions.
Here's what Kasich did say Tuesday at the Fritsche Theatre at Otterbein University, a small, private university in Westerville, outside Columbus.
A window into Kasich's theology
The governor name-dropped philosophers and theologians from Søren Kierkegaard to St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Love is not that gooey emotion that we can see on a movie screen. Love is our ability to be able to do something for somebody else,” Kasich said.
"Huh," tweeted Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, whom Kasich has endorsed to replace him – much to her apparent dismay.
Mass shootings, but no policies
Kasich shifted to talk about shootings in Las Vegas, Chardon and Parkland, Fla. One of three people the governor honored for their courage – an annual tradition – was Chris Hole, a Miamisburg hospice nurse who rushed to help concert attendees during the Las Vegas attack.
Just last week, Kasich proposed gun control plans that angered pro-Second Amendment groups. Among the proposals was a 'red flag' law to allow relatives to help remove guns from a family member who appears dangerous. Another plan would impose penalties for local officials who don't update background check records.
An Enquirer investigation found dozens of courts had not reported the names of people barred from owning firearms. The result: those people could easily purchase a gun after passing a background check.
But Kasich stopped short of pitching the GOP-controlled Legislature on his newest ideas. Democrats were disappointed.
A review of greatest hits, but no big plans
The governor did tick off accomplishments from his two terms: cracking down on prescribing opiates, expanding Medicaid for lower-income Ohioans and recently helping children in poverty in Pike County. He talked about keeping lower-level felony offenders from going to prison, sending them to county jails instead.
Kasich has nine months left in office, so his new policy announcements were few. He will create a new state park named for Jesse Owens in Morgan and Muskingum counties. He plans to build a $112 million mental health facility in Columbus.
What comes next? He didn't say
The speech was nostalgic, showing a different side of Kasich than the driving, union-challenging man who entered the governor’s office in 2011. He offered few hints about his future plans.
“I believe that the future of our country rests on us, not the governor, not the president, not the big shots,” Kasich said. "Together, we have a world to change.”
On Sunday, Kasich told CNN's State of the Union that "all options are on the table" for 2020. Kasich is booked nearly every Sunday on a national news show – often challenging President Donald Trump. As one of the few "never Trump" Republicans to continue to oppose the president, Kasich is in high demand.
Whether that publicity can be harnessed into votes – especially against a sitting president from the same party – remains to be seen.
Praise for Westerville after police shootings
Kasich's speech in Westerville came just weeks after he and his wife were seated in the front pew of a Catholic church there, observing the funeral service of police officers Eric Joering, 39, and Anthony Morelli, 54.
Joering and Morelli were fatally shot Feb. 10 while responding to a disconnected 911 call in Westerville, where Kasich lives. Kasich touted the resilience of his adopted hometown.
"The reaction here was remarkable, I suppose, unless you really understand Westerville," Kasich said. "People will not take those blue ribbons down."