Kasich cites Flint at MSU, urges water rule scrutiny

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

East Lansing — Republican presidential hopeful and Ohio Gov. John Kasich said Monday the water contamination crisis in Flint should compel the federal government to re-examine regulations.

“I think they need to look at all the water rules and regulations. We need to make quicker reporting requirements,” Kasich said during a campaign event in East Lansing on the campus of Michigan State University.

“What I will say is I think (Michigan Gov. Rick) Snyder’s probably working day and night, and probably not even sleeping, trying to get on top of the whole thing and fix it, but it is a challenge. Water is important. Clean water is important.”

Sanders tackles Flint crisis at Michigan rallies

The U.S. House passed legislation last week co-sponsored by two Michigan lawmakers, Reps. Dan Kildee and Fred Upton, strengthening requirements for the federal Environmental Protection Agency to notify the public when drinking water contamination levels exceed standards.

Kasich, speaking to a crowd of hundreds, said his own environmental quality agency in Ohio, which is dealing with a smaller-scale lead contamination crisis in the village of Sebring, recently wrote the federal government to request updated reporting requirements.

“Flint is a unique situation to probably the entire rest of the country,” Kasich told reporters after his rally. “All I’m suggesting is we have aging infrastructure, and it makes it a challenge for every state and every community to deal with this issue, so we all have to be on top of our games.”

Kasich used the 45-minute university event to share his positive campaign message and an optimistic vision for the country, alternating calls for limited government, personal responsibility and compassion.

He offered a series of life lessons for students in attendance, describing how his own drive as a student at Ohio State University led to a chance meeting with then-President Richard Nixon.

“Our country is not run by big shots,” he said. “The spirit of our country gets rekindled by you, and what you do to take control in your neighborhood. What is happening in the schools is up to you. What happens in stomping out the curse of drugs is up to you. The way in which we treat the poor in our neighborhoods is up to you.”

State Rep. Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, introduced Kasich and won applause when he called him “the sincere adult in the room” during recent GOP debates. Kasich did not criticize other Republican candidates but took a couple jabs at Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination and also was campaigning Monday in Michigan.

Kasich opened the event by thanking students for attending his rally even though he is not “giving away free college,” a reference to Sanders’ call for free tuition at public colleges. He also accused Sanders of a slow response to the Veterans Affairs agency scandal in 2014 because “his view was that big government doesn’t make this kind of mistake.”

Kasich is riding high after a strong showing in New Hampshire, where he held more than 100 town hall events prior to his second-place finish in the GOP primary behind businessman Donald Trump.

He spent part of this weekend in South Carolina, which votes Saturday, and hopes to do well there. But Kasich also is turning his attention to Michigan’s March 8 primary, which could serve as a springboard into winner-take-all contests the following week in Florida and his home state of Ohio.

Kasich has visited Michigan more this cycle than any other presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, and emphasized the importance of the state in his bid for the GOP nomination.

“We’re in uncharted territory, and I think their strategy is a novel one,” Michigan GOP consultant Stu Sandler said of the Kasich campaign. “But there’s a lot of weeks in between (now and the Michigan primary), and they’ve got to keep momentum up.”

While Kasich is in Michigan, close rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are continuing to campaign in South Carolina. Former President George W. Bush was expected to stump for his brother Monday night in North Charleston.

“I think (Kasich) does risk letting some of these other candidates get momentum and get delegates,” Sandler said. “Right now the delegate counts are pretty close, but it’ll be interesting to see where they are March 8.”

Kasich on Monday defended his delegate strategy and his focus on Michigan, telling reporters that his campaign will do what it can with what it has, picking and choosing which states it will play in.

“I’ve got to go where I think is the most fertile ground, and there’s a lot to do,” he said. “It’s a big country.”

New Day For America, a pro-Kasich super PAC, has a handful of staffers working on the ground in Michigan and is expected to open three offices by the end of the week.

Kasich spoke earlier Monday at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, where he was joined by former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra and state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof. He was scheduled to hold town halls Monday night in Utica and Tuesday morning in Livonia.

Rick Harper, a retired preacher from Grand Rapids, said he is leaning toward Kasich because of his experience, which he feels is just as important as honest and integrity.

“I was backing Trump, but he’s imploding, I think, and Kasich is coming up,” said Harper, whose wife, Elizabeth, joined him at the rally but likes Marco Rubio.

Brennan Gorman and Brandon Lanyon, 24-year-old law school students, arrived at the student union two hours before the Kasich rally to secure front-row seats. Kasich is appealing, both said, because he is willing to listen to different opinions and work across the aisle.

“He built a legacy in Ohio with basically nothing,” said Lanyon. “Jeb Bush had his family, but Kasich made a name for himself. He built it with his own backbone.”

Iris Robare, a 19-year-old freshman majoring in public policy, said she supports Kasich because of his experience and open-mindedness.

“He’s not too rigid in his stances, like he’s not afraid to expand Medicaid or mental health funding,” she said. “He’s not afraid to take a more progressive approach, a more moderate approach, even though he is Republican. I’m a huge supporter.”

Kasich, who earned a reputation as a fiscal conservative in Congress by helping balance the federal budget, flashed his independent streak before the young crowd. He told students “there’s no question” that humans have contributed to global warming and said the country should move on from the debate over gay marriage, which was settled last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to wed.

“The Republican Party is my vehicle; it’s not my master,” Kasich said. “I take orders from no one but my wife.”