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:
How will Trump’s administration impact you? Learn more