It’s only half-time, Ohio! So if Buckeyes think the next four years can’t be as bad as the last four when it comes to reshaping Ohio government, then you don’t know Gov. John Kasich. His counter-intuitive perfect pick to protect public health as the Director of the Ohio Department of Health [ODH] isn’t a licensed doctor or qualified health professional as state law mandates.
Follow state law? Not this governor, who probably imagines himself as the Steve Jobs of government, both visionary and demanding, hero and shithead, as Walter Isaacson boiled down the personality of the late great digital innovator who just wanted to “put a dent in the universe.” Gov. Kasich likely thinks he’s a hero to many, especially his group of insiders who see the state as a cash-cow to be milked at will. But for those who know him and were lucky to watch his positively president-poisoning performance captured in an editorial-interview video the late-great Plain Dealer of Cleveland took down from its website after Kasich communicators forced them to, he nailed the shithead part with room to spare.
The 62-year old Kasich, who earned a second and final term with fewer than 25 percent of registered voters actually voting for him last Tuesday, tapped a former Republican legislator who was tasked to leveraging The Ohio Turnpike [OTP] in the same way Lehman Brothers, a former employer of the governor, leveraged subprime mortgage loans, which for students of recent history resulted in the collapse of the economy, triggering a Great Recession that haunts Ohio to this day. Johnny Pennsylvania probably made millions working for Lehman, even as Ohio retirement funds lost hundreds of millions as a result of bad and risky investments he coordinated. Kasich, a former 18-year congressman who again aspires to run for president, has successfully cashed-in on his insider status over the long and lucrative arch of his career as a hard-right Reagan era relic.
When Gov. Kasich announced he wanted a political appointee who faithfully did his bidding with the OTP to fulfill the important mission of ODH, he again showed his disdain and contempt for Ohio law and public health. “Ohio’s public health responsibilities cover a wide range of complex issues, requiring a team of people with a rare mix of skills,” Kasich said in the release announcing his selection of Mr. Hodges. “With his proven management ability, Rick is well prepared to lead the Department to carry out its mission, and Dr. Applegate’s medical expertise will allow her to support Rick by focusing on medical issues and assisting him in recruiting an expert clinical team.”
Does Hodges’ health experience qualify him for the director job? Absolutely not, but it’s basic Kasich to disregard the law, as he’s done in this case, or the state constitution, as he tried to do when he picked his wealth Silicon Valley venture capitalist friend and campaign contributor, Mark Kvamme, to be in his cabinet. Contrary to constitutional law, Kvamme hadn’t qualified for that position, but first-term governor John Kasich picked him anyhow. The constitution eventually won, maybe only because Gov. Kasich couldn’t get an overnight vote by his GOP-controlled legislature to change it like he did to keep the state auditor for prying too deeply into JobsOhio’s books. Were that possible, it would have been done. Lucky for Buckeyes, changing the constitution isn’t that easy yet.
So it was basic Kasich when administration pitchman Rob Nichols, known widely for his mean, snarky statements to the media that often contradict what his boss says on any given day, told one news source Hodges would not have been appointed to the post if he wasn’t qualified. “The health of the people of this state deserves to be above politics and this decision has already been supported by some of the most qualified health care professionals in the state,” Nichols told media.
If there is one department over all others in state government than offers the opportunity to make moral decisions that can help an enormous number of people live longer, healthier lives, it’s ODH. It would be a real Ohio miracle if Hodges or Kasich for that matter, read and absorbed the clear messages offered by Nicholas Freudenberg, DrPH, Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the City University of New York School of Public Health and Hunter College and founder and director of Corporations and Health Watch in his book “Lethal But Legal.” Freudenberg is one among many that monitor the business practices of the alcohol, automobile, firearms, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and tobacco industries.
Freudenberg examines in detail how corporations have shaped public health over the last century, beginning in industrialized countries and then moving into less-regulated developing nations. Kasich and Hodges would have learned, had they read the book, that corporation’s profit-motivated practices is clearly connected to the growing burdens of disease and health care costs. “Never in history has such a small group controlled so many domains of human existence, nor had at its disposal such a panoply of wealth, technology, and ideology. In addition, the current corporate system now undermines health via three distinct but synergistic pathways: by encouraging consumption of unhealthy products, by widening inequality and pushing more people into poverty, and by imposing austerity on governments, rolling back safety net programs and the regulations and standards that protect public health,” Freudenberg writes in “Lethal But Legal.”
If anyone can make a serious argument that Hodges will use ODH to counter the corporate consumption complex Freudenberg so accurately writes about, that would be the Ohio miracle all by itself. But as the first-half showed, real miracles are hard to come by but illusions and magic, as Kasich mentioned in his Election Day night, are this administrations great skill.
The Kasich Administration understands the dilemma posed by Hodges, which accounts for appointing medical doctor and state epidemiologist Mary DiOrio as medical director and lead scientist under Hodges. True to the pervasive pretzel logic Kasich communicators routinely use to explain why they do the things they do, Kasich communicators characterized backing up an unqualified Hodges with a qualified doctor as a “revamped management structure at the department,” according to the AP.