WESTERVILLE, Ohio — In a State of the State speech infused with philosophy, religion and a pinch of nostalgia, Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday urged people to tap the values he believes all people have "written on our hearts" to live a life bigger than themselves.
The term-limited Republican governor followed through on predictions he had been making over the past week that his final big address as governor would be "odd" and "different." Aside from Kasich saying he had tried to do his best for the state, the hour-long speech at Otterbein University touched only in passing on his record over the past eight years or on any substantive initiatives.
Instead, the 65-year-old Kasich looked back much further — to the messages of philosophers Plato, Aristotle, Camus, Nietzsche and John Locke and religious leaders including St. Augustine and Martin Luther.
"As a result of the fact that we are all made in the image of our creator, everyone deserves respect — regardless of race, creed, appearance, our station in life," said Kasich, who has emerged as a national voice for bipartisanship and civility in politics. "We all deserve respect, because we are all created and made in the image of our creator."
Kasich, who faces speculation he may challenge President Donald Trump in 2020, said that unity leads to a "natural pull" to follow certain values, including personal responsibility, justice, compassion, forgiveness and humility.
"It can come at a high cost when we act on the basis of these values, because sometimes these values are at war with the world," he said.
The governor kicked off his speech by thanking the residents of Westerville, his hometown, and remembering two police officers who were fatally shot there last month. He said it exemplifies the "wonderful towns" across America that have been forced to pull together after recent shootings.
Kasich gave this year's Governor's Courage Awards to three Ohioans who made personal sacrifices to help others. Recipient Mikah Frye, a 10-year-old from Ashland County, passed up an Xbox for Christmas and used the money to buy blankets for a homeless shelter. Nina Schubert, a 19-year-old Kent State University student from Mentor, created the Nightingale Project, an on-campus student group with the goal of ending stigmas around mental illness. And Chris Hole, a hospice nurse from Miamisburg, rushed in to help save lives after attending a concert and witnessing the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas in October.
Even Kasich's announcement of a new state park was infused with his message of values. He said the park being established in eastern Ohio will be named for Olympian Jesse Owens, "that great Ohioan who stood up to Hitler and came home with a gold medal."
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources struck a deal with American Electric Power in August to purchase a major portion of a 60,000-acre parcel owned by AEP, known as ReCreation Land. The land spans parts of Guernsey, Morgan, Muskingum and Noble counties.
Kasich spokesman Jim Lynch said the park will involve a portion of the land and will be set up for later expansion.
Legislative leaders of both parties embraced Kasich's message of respect and unity, although Democrats pushed back against the speech's lack of specifics about policy.
"In the rhetoric, in the speech that we heard, which had really, really had some really nice thoughts — and we should do those things, we should go out and inspire people to be better, to help each other — but our job is to pass policy that creates a framework to let that opportunity happen," said House Democratic Leader Fred Strahorn, of Dayton. "And that was what I did not hear in the speech."