The Next Labor Vs. GOP Fight: Ohio

Following Democrats’ and organized labor’s near-miss in the Wisconsin state Senate recalls, in which they fell just short of picking up the magic number of seats that would have flipped control of the chamber, the political world will now turn to a new battle: Ohio.

The Wisconsin fight was triggered due to newly-elected Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union legislation, which eliminated most collective bargaining rights that unions had previously enjoyed for decades.

Over in Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich passed similar legislation, labor and other liberal groups have pursued a different tack under that state’s election procedures: Triggering a referendum for this November, in which voters will be able to strike down the legislation directly, and which has in fact placed the very law itself on hold pending their decision.Melissa Fazekas, spokeswoman for the group heading up the referendum campaign, We Are Ohio (similarly named to We Are Wisconsin, the labor-backed campaign group in that state), told TPM that the two states’ contests were not the same.

“It’s really difficult to compare the two, just because Wisconsin was focused on specific senators, and the recalls in specific districts,” said Fazekas. “And in Ohio, our referendum is on the entire bill, and it’s a statewide referendum.

In an e-mail to the state GOP’s supporter list, chairman Kevin DeWine boasted of the success that their Wisconsin co-partisans achieved in turning back the Dems.

“Taxpayers and American job creators won a victory over politically partisan union bosses and Obama Democrats in Wisconsin Tuesday night,” DeWine wrote. “Wisconsin voters reaffirmed their support of Republican leadership in their state and rejected the job-crushing spending habits of liberal Democrats. Here in Ohio we’re witnessing the same thing as our reform agenda continues to gain support and momentum.”

The state GOP did not return TPM’s requests for comment.

Organizers turned in nearly 1.3 million signatures this past spring, which was several times more than the relatively small required minimum.

Normally, triggering a repeal referendum required organizers to collect signatures equal to just six percent of the total votes in the last gubernatorial election, with additional requirements that they be sufficiently spread out with at least three percent of the gubernatorial vote across at least half the counties in the state. That meant the threshold was only 231,150 signatures — but organizers fired their opening political salvo by collecting far more than that, thus creating a greater base for the actual campaign.

Last week, the state Ballot Board officially decided on the wording of the referendum, with the question corresponding to passage of the legislation itself — a “Yes” vote will be to uphold the bill, while a “No” vote will be to repeal it.

As the Associated Press reported, this wording provides an advantage to the anti-Kasich forces:

It echoes years of Ohio ballot tradition, but also counts as a victory for the law’s opponents. Voters against or confused by an issue tend to vote against it.

Proponents of the law signed by Gov. John Kasich in late March wanted a “yes” to favor repeal of the controversial Senate Bill 5 and a “no” vote to oppose repeal. They argued the committee fighting the law has spent more than $4 million making clear it is a repeal question.