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Ohio: Ground Zero for Conservatives' Soul Crushing Agenda

A look inside John Kasich's Ohio, where workers make minimum wage, live under threat of layoff, and many spend every day on the verge of desperation.

The decor of Erin and Anthony Rodriguez's  guest room could really only happen in the United States. In fact, a European did lay eyes on it one time, and his superior brow furrowed instantly with disbelief as he said, "What…is THAT?" It isn't just the powder-pinkness of the third bedroom in their Gahanna, Ohio, home. It's more the hot pink stars stenciled along the ceiling border, and that between them alternate the words "Katie" and "an American Girl." Erin, who's 30, Ohio born and raised, Ohio for life, can't decide herself if she should be excited—I mean, it's not  not funny—or mildly embarrassed to show it to people. Nobody named Katie lives here. This paint scheme was left by the previous owners. On the early June afternoon when I drop my suitcase by the bed, Erin exclaims, "You can be our Katie!"

We've been roommates before. But that was back when we went to Ohio State, from which we graduated almost 10 years ago. Now Erin has a grown-up job as a public school teacher and a husband who's a public information specialist for the Ohio agency that keeps tabs on local utilities and makes sure they don't go all Enron on consumers. They have a baby, Jocelyn, who is extremely cute and well behaved, as well as a gray cat named Princess Vespa and a black cat named Barack Obama. For a long time, my contact with Erin has been limited mostly to occasional phone check-ins during which we brief each other on, like, how adulthood is going. Now I'm taking up temporary residence here not as a fun former roomie but as a reporter. I write Erin a rent check for a third of the mortgage—$430. She says she's really happy to see me, even though she knows the grown-up reporter reason I'm here is that she and her husband are state employees, so something bad is bound to happen to them in the next month. That $430, she tells me, might make an important difference in their finances soon.

If the sign at the edge of town  is to be believed, Gahanna is one of the  Top 100 Places to Live. The Columbus suburb is a lot like the Cleveland suburb I grew up in. Green. Sprawly. Solidly middle-class, chock-full of shopping centers. And Erin and Anthony's house is a lot like a lot of houses around it, a modest split-level with a big front yard and a deck in the back. In the wedding pictures on the walls, Erin's got short blond hair. Currently, her locks are chin length and closer in color to the chocolate corduroy couch on which we sit while, on the floor before us, Jocelyn makes herself the center of a four-foot radius of toys. Erin's beaming in the photos, and that's pretty much what she usually looks like, pretty teeth bared, shiny cheeks. She still feels warm and open even as her face creases with anxiety and she says, "When we bought our house, we basically wiped out our savings." The only reason there's any money left in the bank at all is because of the rebate from President Obama's  first-time homebuyer's credit program. Because the house, like most people's houses, isn't paid for, and neither is Anthony's car, like many people's cars, the prospect that Anthony might have only three more paychecks coming is making Erin "not fine," though she's "trying to be fine." When we were in college, we all had these fabulous plans. Or at least plans to be supersecure once we found careers. To make a living and then…live. Erin blames the governor for her doubts now. She calls him some unsavory names.

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