Let’s start with this reminder of what Ohio Gov. John Kasich said in 2012 about a certain kind of wife:
“It’s not easy to be a spouse of an elected official. You know, they’re at home, doing the laundry and doing so many things, while we’re up here on the stage getting a little bit of applause, right?”
Being a so-called political wife (my husband is a U.S. senator), I was immediately flooded with doubts over whether I was living up to such low expectations.
Oh, forget it. I can’t even pretend that my state’s Republican governor’s 1950s retro fantasy was funny, because so many men still think it is. I do, however, have a reason for dredging it up.
Her name is Kayla Solsbak.
Last week, the 18-year-old University of Richmond sophomore (she skipped the first grade) attended a campus town hall meeting for Kasich, who is now running for president. She is the features assistant for the school paper, The Collegian, but she was not there as a student journalist that day. She was a voter eager to ask a question.
“I had raised my hand each time, and every time, he passed me over,” she said in a phone interview this week. “I’m not blaming him for that. A lot of people wanted to ask questions.”
So she showed more enthusiasm.
“I sat on the edge of my seat and raised my hand higher. I’m not sure if I waved it back and forth, but I was definitely trying to get his attention.”
Her strategy worked. Kasich called on her as only Kasich can.
From Solsbak’s debut column for The Collegian: “My hand was raised, my body half-way out of my back-row seat, when Gov. John Kasich finally acknowledged me.
“‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any Taylor Swift concert tickets,’ he said, his eyes meeting mine.
“The older members of the audience chuckled as my friends’ jaws dropped to the floor. It was astonishingly clear that Gov. Kasich did not come to Richmond for my vote.”
Well, at least he didn’t bring up the laundry.
Solsbak said she tried to ignore Kasich’s comment so that she could ask her question about immigration. Later, like generations of women before her, she got to thinking.
“I thought, ‘OK, that wasn’t cool,'” she said. “That was not an appropriate comment for him to make to me.” She told several journalism professors about what had happened. “The male professors were surprised,” she said. “The female professor was not.”
Solsbak wrote her column that afternoon. The Collegian posted it the following day. That was that, she thought. Then friends started sending her links to various news organizations’ stories about her encounter with Kasich.
Kayla Solsbak was an Internet sensation.
A clarification, which Solsbak mentioned to me: She didn’t get Kasich’s quote exactly right, as she was writing from memory and hadn’t yet seen the now-viral video.
Here’s what Kasich said: “I don’t have any tickets for, you know, for Taylor Swift or anything or, you know, or Linkin Pa… Go ahead. Yes. I know. You’re just so excited. Yes.”
Solsbak pointed out her error to me because that’s the kind of journalist she wants to be. Unfortunately, she has learned this past week that not all journalists share her affection for accountability. Many news organizations and blogs ran with her version of Kasich’s comment instead of reaching out to her or viewing the video before posting their stories.
“I was surprised by some basic fact-checking that didn’t occur,” she said. “I was surprised by how many assumptions were made.”
Also, despite media coverage to the contrary, she never claimed that Kasich “shushed” her. And she never described his comment as “off-color.”
“A lot of online commentary was pointed at me for things I’ve never said,” she said.
Fellow student Dylan McAuley, apparently auditioning to be Kasich Jr., wrote a rebuttal for The Collegian. Kasich’s comments were taken out of context, McAuley argued. Solsbak was playing “the sexism card.”
Illustrating the very problem that Solsbak had addressed in her column, McAuley described her enthusiasm in this way: “The level of excitement being exuded by the author was that of a teen Taylor Swift fan trying to get tickets to a concert.”
You know us girls. We’re either as angry as Hillary or as silly as teeny-boppers — in keeping with the ’50s theme.
Those with even a smidgen of familiarity with political events know that an audience member trying to grab attention at a town hall is as common as a dog urinating on a hydrant. As for McAuley’s further complaint — that Solsbak dared to ask two follow-ups to her question — well, dang, that makes me proud to call her a fellow journalist.
Kayla Solsbak is taking all this in stride. The coverage was a valuable lesson for her, she said, as a consumer of news and as a journalist.
When I asked where she’d like to end up, she told me she wants to be an education reporter for The Washington Post.
Dear editors: Consider this my letter of recommendation.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John Kasich considers his answer to a question during an interview with Reuters in Concord, New Hampshire September 8, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder