WASHINGTON -- Ohioans overturned a divisive anti-union law on Tuesday, delivering a significant defeat to Republican Gov. John Kasich and a victory to labor unions.
Ohio voters rejected Issue 2, a ballot referendum on Senate Bill 5, a measure that restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees, among other provisions. Opposition to the legislation inspired large protests from residents around the state this year.
Issue 2 failed by a vote of 61 to 39 percent.
Immediately after the results came in, union officials sent out statements declaring success.
"One message rang loud and clear tonight in Ohio and across the country: those who spend their time scapegoating workers and pushing a partisan agenda will only strengthen the resolve of working people," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. "From the very beginning, it's been clear that Gov. Kasich, and indeed many politicians, were pushing an agenda that was about politics, not about solving our nation's problems or creating jobs."
"Even after John Kasich locked the doors to democracy and shut out everyday heroes from the Statehouse, in the cold, blister of February -- working people never lost hope. We marched in the spring, circulated petitions in the summer and now, this fall, we delivered a win for all working people by defeating Issue 2, repealing Senate Bill 5," added Becky Williams, president of SEIU District 1199 in Ohio.
Kasich held a press conference shortly after the fate of Issue 2 had been declared, saying it was time for him to "take a deep breath" and figure out what to do next.
"When I say it is a time to pause, it is right now, on this issue," he said. "The people have spoken clearly. You don't ignore the public. Look, I also have an obligation to lead. I've been leading since the day I took this office, and I'll continue to do that. But part of leading is listening and hearing what people have to say to you."
Kasich signed SB 5 into law on March 31, although the law was put on hold during the referendum campaign. The labor-aligned group We Are Ohio organized the anti-Issue 2 effort, and Building A Better Ohio led the pro-Issue 2 fight.
Tuesday's defeat may have nullified SB 5, but parts of the law may not be dead in the long term. While much of the public attention has centered on the law's ban on collective bargaining for public employees, the law also contained provisions to require public employees to contribute to their health care and pension benefits, along with pushing merit pay for teachers -- proposals that polled well in the run-up to the election.
Ohio State Rep. Mike Foley (D) said the Republican leadership in the legislature may try to pass these proposals one by one when they reconvene in January.
"They could act and take bits and pieces of it and try a new bill on teacher merit pay or health care...or any of the parts of the bill that they think they can get passed," Foley said. "I don't know if they will. We'll have to see. ... I think some of the Republican members on their side of the aisle are going to start looking at their leadership funny if they come back with another collective bargaining bill."
"We certainly are going to be ready for that, if we're still in the same kind of political situation of them controlling the state legislature and governor's office," added AFL-CIO Political Director Mike Podhorzer. "We're hoping the vote on Tuesday will have demonstrated this is enormously unpopular.
Kasich's spokesman recently said the governor had not been focusing on what-ifs in case the referendum was defeated.
Opposition to Issue 2 brought together a broad coalition of Ohioans -- as well as a significant amount of cash. With just under two weeks to go until Election Day, both sides had already spent more than $38.1 million, with those against Issue 2 outraising their opponents by nearly 4-to-1. The campaign saw a public service announcement by a former astronaut, shady tricks in television ads and a right-wing radio host taking the side of the unions.
While the Occupy movement has been at odds with police in Oakland, Calif., and New York, Issue 2 served as a way to unite the police and Occupy Cleveland members. The local police union said that the officers recognized they had support from the Occupy movement on Issue 2 and sought to work with the protesters. This included identifying at one point which members of the Occupy movement officers arrested. In addition, when police officers asked the Occupy Cleveland group not to use a police memorial plaza for a demonstration, Occupy leaders cooperated.
In the run-up to Tuesday's vote, polls showed that Issue 2 was headed for a decisive defeat.
SB 5 has defined Kasich's first year in the governor's mansion. While the Republican did not mention the issue in his campaign to unseat former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in the 2010 election, his quick embrace of the bill earlier this year made him the law's public face. Kasich ran a statewide campaign to save SB 5 in the run-up to the election.
Political experts in Ohio told The Huffington Post that the governor will not turn into a lame duck just yet, since he has three more years in office and other issues, including economic development and the budget, could be the ones to define him.
Issue 2 was one of three referendums on the Ohio ballot this year. Voters approved Issue 3, a largely symbolic measure that sought to amend the state constitution to prohibit the national health care law from taking effect in Ohio. Written by a conservative-leaning group, the measure sought to influence the coming battle in the U.S. Supreme Court over the future of the national health care law.
Ohio voters also faced Issue 1, a referendum raising the maximum age for judicial applicants from 70 to 75. Normally an under-the-radar referendum subject matter, Issue 1 languished in anonymity in this year's cycle, and was defeated by voters.
A spokesman for the International Association of Firefighters, who was not authorized to speak on the record, hoped Tuesday's victory would be a warning to other conservative governors around the country.
"Kasich ran on a platform of growth, and his first thing is to give tax breaks to the rich, increase the pay of his staff significantly -- while at the same time, he's trying to cut the firefighters and police and teachers and nurses. It's an overreach," he said. "They went a little too far, and what's happening here in Ohio is another step in what happened in Wisconsin."
Take a look back at the history of Issue 2:
Progressives in Ohio turned to the ballot in order to overturn Senate Bill 5, the state's controversial collective bargaining law. Using a provision in the Ohio constitution, union-affiliated groups successfully petitioned over the summer to have a statewide referendum conducted over S.B. 5, which was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature and Gov. John Kasich (R). The referendum -- Issue 2 on the ballot -- places the fate of the law in the hands of Ohio voters in the election on Nov. 8, 2011.
The referendum over Ohio's new collective bargaining law had freshman Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) following in the footsteps of two other Republican governors -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. All three have proposed changes to public employee collective bargaining in their states to varied reactions. Wisconsin has faced recall elections, while parts of the New Jersey proposal still pend in the Democrat-controlled state legislature and Ohio's law faces a statewide referendum to overturn it. Seen here is a February 2011 protest in front of the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton by public employees.
Thirty television stations around Ohio pulled an ad placed by supporters of Ohio's collective bargaining reform bill after the commercial's star said footage of her was changed to make her appear to be a supporter of the law. Cincinatti resident Marlene Quinn had spoken in an ad to overturn the collective bargaining law, which faces a statewide referendum on Nov. 8. She said that supporters of the law used the footage in their ad that made it appear that she supported the law, which limits collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio.
The November vote on the fate of Ohio's collective bargaining law has overshadowed another statewide referendum regarding health care. Ohio's Issue 3 is a proposal to amend the state constitution to prohibit the individual mandate of the federal health care reform law from being utilized in Ohio. President Obama's federal law is also the subject of a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The health care referendum -- planned before the collective bargaining vote -- could have an impact on the union vote by drawing more voters to the polls. Ohio voters are also being asked to vote on a third statewide issue regarding the retirement age for state judges.
From a former governor to the current governor, along with local legislators and union leaders, the statewide fight over Ohio's collective bargaining law has drawn in a wide cast of political characters. Among the players in the fight are Gov. John Kasich (R), former Gov. Ted Strickland (D), state Sen. Shannon Jones (R) and local union leaders. The fight involves the state's new collective bargaining law -- championed by Kasich and Jones -- which is the subject of a statewide referendum seeking to overturn the law on Nov. 8.
As the Nov. 8 election draws near, both sides in the fight over Ohio's collective bargaining law have taken to the ground and the airwaves to make their case heard. Each side has been campaigning across the state as polls show the repeal efforts leading. The referendum -- Issue 2 -- will decide if the law, which limits the collective bargaining rights of public employees, will continue.
Two late-October polls showed the pro-repeal forces leading in the upcoming statewide referendum over Ohio's collective bargaining law. The battle pits Gov. John Kasich (R) and his allies against labor unions and Democratic groups in one of the biggest fight of the first term governor's administration.
Cincinnati resident Marlene Quinn said that footage of her used in a commercial supporting the overturning of S.B. 5 was then used by supporters of the bill for their own commercial. Quinn's great-granddaughter had been rescued by firefighters and Quinn had taped the ad to oppose Issue 2 and support the unions. Thirty Ohio television stations pulled the ad following Quinn saying she was not a supporter of S.B. 5.
Ohio political experts predicted that Gov. John Kasich (R) will suffer little long term political damage if the collective bargaining law is voted down in the election. Kasich has campaigned across the state to save S.B. 5, which has become the signature issue of his first year in office. The experts said that Kasich has three more years left in his term and the ability to put back popular parts of the law, in the event it fails. The experts also said that Kasich will likely have voters judge him more in 2014 on other issues, including economic development and taxes, than on the collective bargaining law.
The battle over Ohio's controversial collective bargaining law -- Issue 2 -- caused strange bedfellows to develop at the Occupy Cleveland movement. Local police and Occupy Cleveland members have formed a working relationship, based on the Occupy group's opposition to the bargaining law, which impacts police officers. Local police have worked with the Occupy members, according to the police union, including knowing which members to arrest during a city ordered arrest. Occupy Cleveland members also did not move their protest to a police memorial plaza after the union asked them not to protest there.
Conservative nonprofit group Citizens United spent $100,000 on commercials to save Ohio's controversial collective bargaining law at the end of October. The ads ran statewide and were part of an effort to block the funding from union back groups seeking to overturn the law.
A defeat in the Nov. 8 referendum may not be the end of Ohio's collective bargaining law. Experts said that Gov. John Kasich (R) and the Republican controlled state legislature could try to pass parts of the overall bill that have proved popular with voters. This includes provisions regarding public employee pay-ins for pensions and health benefits as well as instituting merit pay for teachers. Kasich's office said that the governor is not focused on the future and has focused his attention on keeping the law passed in the referendum.