John Kasich, asked how he’d handle Flint water crisis, ignores current crisis in his own state

John Kasich has distanced himself from the rest of the Republican field not by having a markedly different set of ideological principles but rather by simply being less angry and mean. With the exception of expanding Medicaid, there really isn’t much in his record to place him to the left of his rivals on the ideological scale. Instead, he’s carved out his own “Kasich lane” in the race, as he described it last night, by running as a no-nonsense reformer; the pragmatist to Ted Cruz’s ideologue.

So when last night’s debate turned to Flint and its ongoing crisis with its water supply, John Kasich seemed like the most obvious candidate to turn to. News broke yesterday that state officials in Flint had clean water trucked in to a state building, even as they were assuring residents in Flint that their tap water was fine; how does Governor Kasich avoid such mind-blowing catastrophes of governance? What would he do differently?

As Kasich answered:

Well, you’ve got to be on top of it right away. And, you know, I don’t know all the details of what Rick Snyder has done. I know there have been people who have been fired; people who are being held accountable. But the fact is, every single engine of government has to move when you see a crisis like that.

And I’ve had many situations in the state of Ohio where we’ve had to move, whether it’s storms, whether it was a horrible school shooting. There are many crises that come — a water crisis in Toledo. You’ve got to be on top of it. You’ve got to go the extra mile. You’ve got to work with local communities and you’ve got to work with the federal government.

Because you realize that people are depending on you. And so, you go the extra mile. But people have to be alert. They have to be alert to problems. And when you see a problem, you must act quickly to get on top of it. And people at home are saying they’ve got a problem, listen to them. Because most of the time, they’re absolutely correct.

So the fact is that we work for the people. The people don’t work for us. And we have to have an attitude when we’re in government of serving-hood. That’s what really matters. We serve you. You don’t serve us. We listen to you and — and then we act.

This sounds alright on its face, although Kasich did go out of his way to avoid criticizing Michigan governor Rick Snyder directly. When your state’s residents have a a problem, the governor governs and fixes it like a decent human being, collaborating with any and all relevant agencies to address the issue. At least, that’s how it works in Ohio, right?


Kasich said that he’s had “many situations in the state of Ohio where we’ve had to move” to respond to a crisis. What Kasich failed to mention is that his own administration failed to move on a water crisis that bears a striking resemblance to the one in Flint. From the Daily Beast:

Last week, Sebring village manager Richard Girouxby announced that pregnant women and children should not drink the water in the village because it might be tainted with lead. Schools in the area have been closed for three days in a row, and children are being tested for lead poisoning.

Over the summer, some seven out of 20 homes in an area often tested were found to have excessive lead levels, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is accusing the manager of the village’s water system of failing to notify people within the required 60 days of the potentially dangerous water.

Andwhile the state government has its finger squarely pointed at the village manager, they’ve got some explaining of their own to do. As the Columbus Dispatch reported earlier this week:

State environmental officials knew as early as October that residents of Sebring in Mahoning County were drinking water contaminated with lead but did not warn the public, records show.

Instead, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency sent multiple warnings to the Sebring Water Treatment Plant, demanding that operators there notify the public that tests showed elevated lead levels. The EPA even set a deadline of Nov. 29 to notify customers of the health threat.

No warnings were issued, according to the EPA.

But it wasn’t until Jan. 21 that the EPA issued a notice of violation to the plant, prompting public notification. Finally, 8,100 people who get their drinking water from the Sebring public water system learned they were at risk.

This week, the state is sending bottled water and testing kits to Sebring customers. Schools there have been closed since Friday.



Lead contamination? Check. Behind-the-scenes pressure with no public notification? Check. Clean water provided months after contamination was originally found? Check check check. You can take John Kasich’s answer, imagine the opposite, and you’ll get a fairly accurate picture of how his administration responded to lead contamination in Sebring.

And lest you think that Kasich was talking about Sebring when he mentioned “a water crisis in Toledo,” he wasn’t. Toledo had a water crisis of its own in 2014. Sebring is 166 miles away.

Kasich said that “when you see a problem, you must act quickly to get on top of it.” His administration dragged its feet. Kasich said that “every single engine of government has to move.” His administration didn’t follow through on deadlines it set for itself. Kasich said that you’ve got to “work with the federal government.” Not only was the federal EPA not asked to get involved in this water crisis until after the public was made aware that their water was contaminated — again, three months after the state government knew — Kasich is skeptical that the federal EPA should be doing much of anything.

John Kasich was asked how he would handle a Flint-style crisis. Not only did he pivot away from what’s going on in Michigan, but he flat-out ignored a crisis that’s currently unfolding in his own state. He’s running as a good-governance alternative to the demagogues he has to share the debate stage with; that’s a problem when his governance isn’t actually that good.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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5 Responses to “John Kasich, asked how he’d handle Flint water crisis, ignores current crisis in his own state”

  1. Budjob says:

    As a resident of the not so great state of Ohio,I submit that John KaSICK,is a nothing more than a very deceptive carnival barker!

  2. DoverBill says:

    Why does it have to be this way in the richest country in the world?

  3. Ol' Hippy says:

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the leaders refusing to act in a timely manner as it seems to be happening all over the US. The thing that galls me is that they want to remove the agencies designed to protect the public. The EPA is there to protect the public. Now though, there are actions all over the US designed to take away the power of the EPA to protect us. Is poisoning the people the aim of these corrupt leaders? Is the lure of cash too hard to resist? I know most people don’t have the time I do to delve into backgrounds of elected officials. That’s why the agencies like the EPA exists. Do not let your leaders get by, by taking the agencies away that protect us. Instead of removing the power of agencies like the EPA we need to put more teeth into them before we all are poisoned into oblivion.

  4. 2karmanot says:

    “Let them drink lead!”

  5. The_Fixer says:

    Kasich’s statement during the debate was nothing but pablum, buzzwords and bullshit. He’s just as ineffective and damaging as any other of the more well-known incompetent Republican governors, such as Snyder, Le Page, Scott and Walker. He would be no more effective as President.

    It strikes me that the Republican party has one hell of a handicap – they’re lousy at governance – locally, at the state level and at the Federal level as well. I just wish that the everyday Joes and Janes would figure that out and quit voting for these incompetent and corrupt demagogues.

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