Former Republican presidential candidate John Kasich opens Texas Tribune Festival

Brianna Stone

The sixth annual Texas Tribune Festival kicked off Friday with a conversation between Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, and Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith.

The opening keynote took place in the Hogg Memorial Auditorium with more than 1,200 people in attendance.

The former Republican presidential candidate answered many questions pertaining to the 2016 presidential election except whether he would support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

“We’re Americans before we’re Republicans and Democrats,” Kasich said after declining to answer whether he would vote for Trump.

Kasich said despite Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, announcing his endorsement of Trump on Friday, he is not any more comfortable with Trump being the Republican nominee.

Smith continued to ask questions about issues surrounding the election and the future of America.

“The Republican debates are stupid. It was about getting on TV the next day. A handful of rich people shouldn’t decide the race,” Kasich said.

During the question-and-answer portion of the keynote, a University of Houston student asked Kasich how his religion has guided him through politics.

“I don’t have to open a Bible to know what I think,” Kasich said. “I’m here to do what the big guy wants me to do. As a society, we need to have an idea of what our responsibilities are.”

Kasich also added that immigration is vital for the country and that it would be absurd to deport millions of people.

“The future of America is about job growth and allowing people to realize their own opportunities in life,” Kasich said.

Smith then mentioned the continuing racial tensions in the country and the events that recently occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina, where a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man in Tulsa, and citizens protested in Charlotte against the National Guard and police officers in riot gear.

The issue of racial tensions between the police force is a tough one, but the country needs better communication, Kasich said.

“You get people together and you get people to communicate together,” Kasich said. He called for the support of human rights and engagement in the world.

Among a number of questions and answers from Smith, Kasich explained the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio to help 400,000 citizens, acknowledged that he believes climate change is real, and criticized America’s education system for not giving students the skills necessary to find work.

“Evan Smith did a fantastic job moderating, hitting key points in this election season,” said UT alumna Estefanía de León, a first-time festival attendee. “From what I saw and heard, the response toward the Kasich keynote was mainly positive.”

Kasich did not say whether he had considered running for president again in the 2020 election.

“I think Kasich was a good, relatable guy. I’m not a Republican, but I was able to agree and relate to him,” said Kendall Zachary, a first-time festival attendee. “It would have been cool to hear who he was voting for, but I don’t see him voting for Trump.”

Ryan Perales, another first-time attendee, said he enjoyed Kasich as the opening keynote and looked forward to the rest of the festival.

“The Texas Tribune Festival is a great combination of people all coming together,” Perales said. “It’s the ACL (Austin City Limits) of politics.”