Candidate as pack rat. What Kasich kept.
WESTERVILLE, OHIO — Tucked on the second floor of the public library in suburban Westerville, Ohio is an expansive and little-known collection of Gov. John Kasich’s records dating back to the 1970s when he was in the state Senate.
He has saved nearly everything, organized by year and filed away in about 100 boxes. Newspaper clippings. Receipts and boarding passes for flights taken more than two decades earlier. Scraps of paper with phone messages. A handwritten letter from a middle school gym class who thought their teacher was a “chauvinist pig” dated 1979. Hours and hours of video tapes (yes, some on VHS) chronicling campaign speeches, policy addresses and television appearances.
For opposition researchers digging for dirt, it’s a dream come true. What did Kasich think about a capital punishment bill in the ‘80s? There’s a letter. And have no doubt, several research groups have taken notice. On Wednesday afternoon, two researchers from Right To Rise, the Super PAC backing Jeb Bush, were camped out in the room watching old videos. The group, which can raise unlimited amounts of money and is expected to blanket early states with television advertisements, has spent days scouring the records.
Much of it is boring. But some offer insights into how Kasich thinks. And others, reminders of past positions. Take for example one particular artifact that’s sure to gain a lot of attention as the election grows closer — or if Kasich starts to see a rise in the poll.
In 1994 as a member of Congress, Kasich voted in favor of standalone legislation to ban automatic weapons — which ultimately became law as part of a larger crime bill. At the time, it enjoyed some bipartisan support. Two decades later, a similar bill to renew the ban couldn’t get a vote in the Senate thanks to strong Republican opposition.
It’s no secret Kasich voted for the bill. Voting records don’t make for good campaign ads. Images of letters from former President Bill Clinton do. Folded in half and filed in a box of “personal political” documents is a letter from Clinton thanking him for casting that vote.
“By your vote today you have taken the first step towards getting assault weapons off the streets and out of the hands of criminals,” the letter reads. Clinton added a personal note at the bottom, “I enjoyed our visit last night,” and signed it himself.
Kasich’s team says they’re not worried about any negative attention from their opponents who have searched the records. The collection was created in 2000 when Kasich left Congress and thought he was leaving political life for good. He picked the Westerville library because he lives in the town, which is about 15 miles north of the state capitol building.
But it’s likely to be one of the few such detailed preservations by a former member of Congress who wasn’t a speaker or who didn’t go on to hold another office that required records be preserved. (None of Kasich’s gubernatorial records are contained in the collection.)
And anyone can visit — if they know how to find it atop the historic part of the library’s building that houses the “Local History Center.”
Walk through the research room and then an exhibit on Westerville’s role in the prohibition or “Anti-Saloon” movement and find a set of blue carpeted stairs closed off with a red rope.
At the top of the stairs, the library has arranged a replica of Kasich’s congressional office. It is complete with the desk he used in Washington. (A House aide confirms members are permitted to purchase their desks when they leave Congress.)
The room is decorated with old Kasich campaign signs. There are pictures of him on the walls with presidents. And bookcases are full of political titles, campaign material and plaques he received while in office.
The next room stores shelves full of Kasich’s documents — wedged between historic city documents and old Westerville High School yearbooks. The Kasich collection occupies a row and half of book shelves, plus various enlarged photos of him that are leaning against the boxes.
The consensus from those who have read through the documents is that most are boring. But a few choice gems may yet emerge.