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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 12:10 am | Fair 51º


Mark Shields: Democrats Storm Back From the Dead in Ohio

Gov. Kasich and Republican lawmakers are on notice after labor's successful repeal campaign

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Exactly one year ago, Ohio Republicans stood as a colossus astride the Buckeye State. Before Election Day 2010, Ohio Democrats had held every statewide office except that of auditor. After the votes were counted, Republicans had won back control of the state House of Representatives, held all seven state Supreme Court seats, took five U.S. House seats away from incumbent Democrats and captured every statewide office. That was one year ago.

Election Day 2011 will be a much different story, due in part to the overreach — let’s be blunt, the arrogance — of the Ohio Republicans and their rookie governor, John Kasich. In the candid judgment of one of the nation’s shrewdest Republican strategists who intimately understands Ohio politics, “We are going to get flattened (in Ohio), because our opponents (organized labor and Democrats) were able to personalize this campaign with an effective emotional appeal.”

The 2011 Ohio campaign involved no candidates directly. The big fight was over a statewide labor-backed vote — known as Issue 2 — to repeal Kasich and the Republican legislature’s law that outlaws strikes by public employees, prohibits collective bargaining by public workers on pensions or health insurance, requires public employees to pay 10 percent of their wages toward their pensions and 15 percent of their health-care costs (which 93 percent of public employees already did), and abolishes binding arbitration in contract negotiations involving firefighters and police officers.

That last feature was the Republicans’ bridge too far. Because fire and police are forbidden from striking against the public safety, when negotiations over their contracts ended in a rare stalemate, an outside mediator, with the authority to reach binding arbitration, was called in. The Republican-passed “reform” law empowers management, if both sides reached an impasse, to impose its last offer on a three-year contract. This provision inspired state Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, an opponent of the law, to compare it to “going into divorce court and finding out that your wife’s father is the judge.”

More important, the “face” and “voice” of labor’s repeal campaign became not the sullen clerk occasionally encountered at the motor vehicles office but instead the local uniformed hero whom Marlene Quinn of Cincinnati thanked in a memorable TV commercial for saving her great granddaughter’s life: “If not for the firefighters, we wouldn’t have our Zoey today.”

She added: “That’s why it is so important to vote no on Issue 2,” explaining that the Republican law limits firefighters’ ability to negotiate on issues involving staffing or equipment. People, who are voters, happen to like their hometown firefighter, the cop on the beat and their kids’ schoolteacher — all of whom are public employees.

The GOP case for the law was the need to curb the costs of employees’ health and pension benefits. But the provision of the bill that eliminated the requirement that public workers who were represented by a union but who refused to join the union be required to pay their “fair share” to the union for representing them in obtaining a pay hike was, in the words of a leading Ohio Republican and a Kasich supporter, “not about saving taxpayers’ money. It’s just a ‘hit job’ on unions” to cripple their financial support for Democrats.

Ohio labor, which was badly dispirited after the 2010 election rout, will now be energized heading into 2012. Ohio Democrats are back from the dead. What will Kasich, who was the principal spokesman for the anti-repeal side — and for whom the defeat is both political and personal — now do? Will he accept the voters’ decision? Will he try to end-run that verdict through the legislature?

The Ohio campaign was quite personal for Democratic strategist Will Robinson, whose firm did the media for the repeal campaign: “My mom was a teacher for 28 years, and my (late) dad was a teacher for 25 years. ... This one was for them.”

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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