By Gregg Sangillo
American University has chosen its 2019 Wonk of the Year: respected political leader John Kasich.
Kasich’s selection, says Kennedy Political Union director Yazan Hanouneh, is based on his record and experiences. “We wanted to award John Kasich with the Wonk of the Year because he has a pretty accomplished record, as the governor of Ohio and a former presidential candidate. And as a former congressman, he was instrumental in balancing the budget.”
Kasich has had a rich and varied career in public life. He started at the local level as a legislative aide and state senator, before getting elected to the US House of Representatives and later serving as the powerful chair of the House Budget Committee. After working in the private sector and hosting his own Fox News show, he served two terms as Ohio governor and ran a presidential campaign for the Republican nomination in 2016.
A fiscal conservative who advocated for policies that balanced federal budgets and reduced deficits, Kasich also broke with other Republicans to expand Medicaid in Ohio under the Affordable Care Act.
AU’s Wonk of the Year award recognizes individuals who are smart, passionate, focused, and engaged, who use their knowledge to create meaningful change. Kasich will appear in Bender Arena to speak and receive the award on Thursday, March 21 at 7:00 p.m. The AU community event is hosted by the Kennedy Political Union lecture series and will be co-sponsored by the AU College Republicans. The hashtag for this event is #AUWonkKasich.
Hanouneh says Kasich was also chosen WOTY for his political moderation and message of unity. “As our politics continue to get more partisan and divided, Governor Kasich kind of represents the middle-of-the-road approach, the we-come-together-as-Americans approach. And he brings a sense of bipartisanship to the table that is really lacking in American politics today,” Hanouneh says.
In a recent review of his gubernatorial legacy, the Dayton Daily News paraphrased a local political scientist’s view that Kasich “evolved over the past eight years from pugnacious and hard-charging to an upbeat pragmatist to America’s moderate and anti-Trump conscience.” A Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial gave him credit for supporting Medicaid expansion and devoting resources to treat and combat the opioid crisis.
Hanouneh says his conservative credentials—Kasich also cut taxes as governor—will help broaden political discourse on campus.
“It’s important for American University and KPU to ensure that we are bringing some ideological diversity to the table, challenging ideas that students have and giving them the opportunity to think more critically about their politics from a different lens,” he says.
Previous Wonk of the Year recipients were former President Bill Clinton, journalist Anderson Cooper, former first lady Laura Bush, campaign strategist Donna Brazile, and human rights activist Malala Yousafzai.
Kasich is now a CNN senior political commentator, and his latest best-selling book is called Two Paths: America Divided or United. At AU, he’s expected to address how to seek common ground in the US. Hanouneh believes Kasich’s commitment to public service—amid a highly polarized political landscape—will resonate with students.
“This conversation is more important than ever: ‘What does it mean to be bipartisan? What is the value in it? What’s the point of it?’ And that’s something that we’re lacking, but at the same time, a lot of students really are looking for.”