Gov. John Kasich (R) took office in January vowing to curb unions’ power. But unions recoiled when a bill he spearheaded curbed the rights of 350,000 public workers — including firefighters and police officers — to negotiate over benefits, equipment and other issues.
The backlash against the law began as soon as Kasich signed it into law in March. By August, when the governor asked for a compromise with unions, it was too late.
As in other states, the law became a battleground for an ongoing fight between labor and Republicans over collective bargaining. In Wisconsin, after Gov. Scott Walker (R) eliminated collective bargaining for many public employees, Democrats and labor failed to take back the state Senate in recall elections. Now, unions have their first bona fide win.
“The governor and his legislative friends really overreached,” said Lee Saunders, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “All of labor was together on this. I think it’s a model for fights across the country.”
Democrats also claimed victory, framing the results as a rebuke to Republican lawmakers across the country after the GOP swept statehouses across the country in 2010. Ohio Democrats were badly beaten in that election.
“With the change in political power in many states last year, Republican governors misread voters’ intentions and used their newfound power to sharpen their ideological axes and enact partisan retribution,” said Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O’Malley (Md.). “Ohioans — and Americans — understand that firefighters, police officers, and teachers didn’t cause this economic recession.”
Republicans argued that the legislation was not only fair, but necessary to balance the budget. They say more difficult choices will have to be made now that the law has been invalidated.
In defeat, Kasich acknowledged that the people had spoken.
“If you don’t win and the people speak . . . you have to pay attention to what they’re saying,” the governor said.
The GOP pointed to another ballot measure that passed — Issue 3 — as proof that it wasn’t all good news for Democrats. Issue 3 was a symbolic vote against the individual mandate portion of President Obama’s health-care bill, and it was passing by a nearly a 2 to 1 margin late Tuesday.
Aaron Blake blogged Wednesday on what the 2011 election outcomes mean for the broader national political landscape:
The unions can still bring it
Yes, the unions came up short earlier this year in Wisconsin – twice – but in both a state Supreme Court race and in the state Senate recall elections, they caused Republicans a major, expensive headache. Well, in Tuesday’s elections, unions caused Republicans a major headache AND they won big.
The unions’ overwhelming victory on Issue 2, which nullifies Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) law curbing the collective bargaining rights of unions, left Kasich conciliatory and unions jubilant.
You have to believe, after seeing what happened in Wisconsin and Ohio, that budget-cutting Republican governors are going to think twice about crossing labor. It’s just too much of a hassle.
Mixed signals on 2012 in Ohio
The Ohio results will be intensely parsed for clues about the next election. Democrats hailed Issue 2 as evidence of their momentum, while Republicans hailed a competing Ohio ballot issue – a symbolic vote against the individual mandate portion of President Obama’s health-care bill (it passed by an even wider margin than Issue 2, nearly two-to-one) – as evidence that they have the edge.
In reality, the truth is somewhere in between. Laws that limit collective bargaining rights are less popular than Republicans overall, and the individual mandate is less popular than Democrats overall.
Yes, the unions could be very helpful turning out Democrats in 2012, but Obama’s health-care bill could be very helpful turning out Republicans. The Democratic win was the reason most people came out to vote and was definitely the better measure of the parties’ electoral machines.
But Obama’s health -care bill is probably more of an issue for 2012. It is, after all, the president’s bill and Obama is the one on the ballot next November.
Blogger Greg Sargent wrote that the Ohio vote presented President Obama’s re-election campaign with an opportunity to take a jab at Republican rival Mitt Romney in a crucial battleground state:
Mitt Romney, after some hemming and hawing, firmly came out for the anti-union law that went down to resounding defeat last night in Ohio. How much of a role will that play in the battle for Ohio, should Romney become the GOP nominee?
The Obama campaign is now seizing on Romney’s embrace of Governor John Kasich’s law rolling back bargaining rights, and Ohioans’ landslide rejection of it yesterday, to underscore an emerging theme: Republicans don’t care about the “economic security of the middle class.” We’ll be hearing a lot of that phrase.
“Middle class families are not going to stand for ideological overreach by Republicans when their economic security is on the line,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an interview.
“After contorting himself into a pretzel, Mitt Romney supported this policy 110 percent,” LaBolt continued. “It further exemplifies that his policies would not only fail to restore economic security for the middle class, but would actually take away their seat at the negotiating table when their livelihoods are on the line.”
That’s perhaps the strongest statement yet from the campaign aligning Obama with the pushback against conservative efforts to roll back the bargaining rights of public employees. La Bolt added: “Any chatter that our supporters aren’t mobilized and energized ends today.”
It’s hard to gauge what kind of significance yesterday’s results will have for the presidential election a year from now. The referendum turned heavily on the fact that cops and firefighters were in the crosshairs, and the turnout will be higher and different next year.
But the fact Romney came to Ohio and equivocated about Kasich’s law in a way that created a media circus for days suggests that yesterday’s results could be a more prominent problem for him than it might be for any other GOP candidate. The Obama campaign seems to see these results as a clear sign of which way public sentiment is heading — and as potentially a major factor in a swing state that has historically decided presidential elections.
More Election 2011 news on Washington Post.com
Arizona recall: Why Russell Pearce lost
CHAT: How Mississippi beat ‘personhood’
Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear easily wins reelection
The Answer Sheet: What Ohio vote means for teachers nationwide