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GOP’s Kasich: Political accomplishments matter

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Ohio Gov. John Kasich drew a contrast here Monday with the non-politician front runners in Republican presidential campaign by saying he is “a reformer who’s actually gotten things done.” during a campaign stop here with auto industry factory workers.

Kasich predicted Midwesterners will look for someone with political accomplishments when the field narrows later in the primary campaign. Outsiders Donald Trump, the New York billionaire real estate developer, and Dr. Ben Carson are running first and second in an average of national polls.

The Republican former congressman said he understands voters’ attraction to government outsiders as Americans watch dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and yearn for strong leadership. He said candidates like him need to take this into account, but he’s betting his accomplishments ultimately will be more compelling.

“I believe in life everybody has a God-given purpose and set of blessings,” said the 63-year-old second-term governor. “I’ve trained all my life for a moment like this.”

His comments came as he indicated he will present a major plan for restoring America's economy on Thursday.

He toured an electroplating plant that supplies the auto industry, Lacks Trim Systems, and met with workers there. The four-generation company has been in business in the Grand Rapids area more than 50 years.

“How many of you think the government should balance its budget?” the nine-term former congressman from Ohio’s 12th Congressional District asked an audience of about 50 plant workers.

While he was in Congress, “we worked 10 years to get it balanced and we did it,” said Kasich, who chaired the House Budget Committee for six years. He was a main player in the passage of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and major welfare reform legislation.

While in Congress from 1983-2001, Kasich also served 18 years on the House Armed Services Committee. Fielding questions, he acknowledged battling radical Islamists in Syria is among many troubling issues for the next president, but said economic security is the top concern.

“Aren’t we more worried about our jobs than anything?” he asked. “We can talk about foreign policy and all that stuff, but what it comes down to is: ‘Am I going to keep my job?’ ”

He touted his blue-collar credentials, having grown up in a Pittsburgh-area family with a homemaker mother and a father who was a mail carrier. He said his grandfather was a coal miner who died of black lung disease.

“My interest is to give a voice to people who don’t necessarily have one now,” he told the employees, adding: “Kasich, rhymes with basic.”

Ryan Lacks, representing the fourth generation as director of sales for one of the company’s divisions, said the Grand Rapids firm has contracts for copper, nickel and chrome trim products with all the major auto companies that have U.S. plants.

While the firm is 54 years old, he said, the plant Kasich toured is a technologically advanced facility that opened two years ago.

The candidate said the modern factory illustrates how technology shouldn’t be feared as a job killer since it reduces the physical workload, boosts efficiency, increases prosperity and leads to more jobs.

Kasich’s quick visit is his fifth to Michigan this year, the most of any of the 16 Republican presidential hopefuls. He traveled to New Hampshire, according to his campaign, where he spoke to a “No Labels Problem Solver Convention” in Manchester where other presidential candidates attended.

Kasich last visited Michigan on Sept. 19 for the two-day Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island, where he was one of five presidential candidates who addressed the gathering’s participants.

The Ohio governor finished third in The Detroit News/Michigan Information & Research Service straw poll of the conference’s nearly 2,200 party activists. He had 13.8 percent of the 785 voters, behind winner Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky with and second-place former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina at 15 percent.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com