State Issue 2 spiraled to defeat by a 2-1 margin Tuesday night, but that might not be the last time Republicans try to curb union power.
In acknowledging defeat, Gov. John Kasich said he and like-minded colleagues “strive for bigger rewards than the fleeting praise of the here and now.”
“Ohio’s problems developed over time because too many people cared more about popularity than about making the tough — and sometimes unpopular — choices Ohio needed,” he said.
House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, already has said lawmakers will try to resurrect some parts of the bill next year.
Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Akron, also said legislators would not have “much choice but to address the issue in a thoughtful way. I still believe it’s what’s best for Ohio.”
The Issue 2 referendum repealed the contentious Senate Bill 5, which aimed to slow the expansion of employee compensation in the face of mounting fiscal crises at the local level. The measure represented the most massive reforms to collective bargaining since the passage of the existing law in 1983.
Public employees would have had to pay at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums and 10 percent of their retirement and would be compensated on merit. They would not have been allowed to strike and would have been heavily penalized if they did.
Riding high after the GOP successes of the 2010 election, Republicans might have felt they had a mandate from the voters, analysts said, but they seriously underestimated the counterpunch unions could still deliver.
“Republicans decided to use this as a knockout blow,” said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State. “If they had adopted less extreme measures, they could have gotten this through.”
John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, said pro-Issue 2 forces blundered when they prohibited strikes and included firefighters and police — perhaps the most sympathetic of the public employees — in the bill.
The defeat of Issue 2 resonated all the way to the White House, with President Obama releasing a message that congratulated Ohioans for “standing up for workers and defeating efforts to strip away collective bargaining rights.”
Voter sentiment was so anti-Issue 2 that only a handful of counties, including Holmes, appeared to approve it, and then by only a very thin margin, according to initial returns on the secretary of state’s website.
In fact, the vote demonstrates a strong anti-government theme, said UA’s Green.
Voters also turned thumbs down on state Issue 1, which would have increased the maximum age of judges, but passed Issue 3, thereby keeping Ohioans from taking part in a federal health-care plan.
“From a partisan point of view, you would expect all three issues to track together,” Green said, “but they didn’t.”
Still, the longer-term implications of the defeat of state Issue 2 were unclear.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said election night was no time to announce anything and that the governor would take some time to think things over.
Kasich might not face many consequences, as his term doesn’t end until 2014 and other issues might crest by then, Green pointed out. Ohio does not have a procedure to recall elected state officials, so he’s in no danger of losing his job ahead of time.
But simmering anger over Issue 2 could produce other consequences for the Republican side of the aisle.
Unions proved they have heft, contributing $30.6 million — four times the amount of their opponents — to defeat the issue.
The issue goaded unions to take action like in no other time in recent memory, assembling a fierce team of 35 field offices that claimed 17,000 volunteers amid a sea of 350,000 union members statewide.
State Issue 2 “awakened a sleeping giant,” said Jeff Moats, president of the Akron Education Association that represents 1,700 teachers. This year’s spade work will help the unions to get out the vote in next year’s presidential race, he said.
Paul Hlynsky, president of the Akron Fraternal Order of Police, said union members will remember in next year’s election which legislators tried to hurt them this year.
“Organized labor is not going to forget,” he said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.