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.