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Published: Sunday, 11/6/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

COMMENTARY

Ohio voters can strike a better balance

BY DAVID KUSHMA
THE BLADE EDITOR

This Tuesday's election gives Ohioans a chance to start to reverse, to a limited but important extent, the far-right lurch of our state's public-policy pendulum.

Defeat of Issue 2 would make clear that Ohio voters recognize the need for change in labor-management relations between state and local governments and their employees, but can distinguish those reforms from hard-core union-busting.

Rejection of Issue 3 would make clear that Ohioans won't risk their health care and consumer safeguards to let the Tea Party express symbolic opposition to ObamaCare that will have no practical effect.

And how we vote on the wide array of local tax proposals on the ballot will make clear how willing and able we are to continue to support public services, especially schools, amid a recession that won't go away.

At this time last year, Ohio voters were looking for someone -- anyone -- to blame for the state's awful economy and high unemployment rate. They made a special scapegoat of the incumbent governor, Democrat Ted Strickland.

Voters fired Mr. Strickland and replaced him -- albeit with a 49-percent plurality -- with his Republican challenger, John Kasich. They gave Republicans control of both houses of the General Assembly, and of nearly every other statewide office.

Ohioans weren't bucking a trend; 2010 was a GOP year across the country. But the new governor and Republican lawmakers interpreted their victories as a near-absolute mandate.

We've seen the results. They enacted an all-cuts state budget that erased a projected deficit by slashing aid to essential public services, while cutting taxes for the state's wealthiest residents.

We've seen attempts to privatize nearly every state (read: taxpayer) asset that isn't nailed down, and proposals that would jeopardize the environmental health of Lake Erie and state parks, in return for vague promises of job creation and economic growth.

More recently, we've seen nakedly partisan efforts by Columbus Republicans to cement their political dominance by working to disfranchise voters who aren't likely to support them, and by drawing new maps for Ohio's U.S. House delegation and General Assembly that mock the idea of fair representation.

And much of this has occurred without any pretense of allowing political opponents -- or citizens -- a piece of an open, inclusive policy-making process.

Ohioans seem to be showing a degree of buyer's remorse. A poll conducted in mid-October by Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that 52 percent of state voters said they disapprove of Mr. Kasich's job performance -- his worst rating since he took office.

Just 36 percent of voters were favorably disposed to the governor. Most significantly, independent voters, who delivered Mr. Kasich's victory over Mr. Strickland last year, are more negative about him now than are voters in general, the poll suggests.

Overall, 37 percent of the Ohioans surveyed said they are very dissatisfied with the way things are going in our state -- again, the highest percentage measured this year by the Quinnipiac poll.

None of this means that Governor Kasich is toast. He won't face voters again for three years -- an eternity in politics. President Ronald Reagan had a disapproval rating worse than Mr. Kasich's in 1983, a year before he mopped the floor with Walter Mondale.

Peter Brown, the assistant director of Quinnipiac's polling institute, notes that other new governors -- such as Republican Rick Scott in Florida -- have numbers as bad as Mr. Kasich's. And he adds that Ohio voters' poor assessment of the state of their state has not changed greatly in more than a year.

Still, Mr. Brown told me, the governor's low approval rating means "he has some political problems, obviously." He says Ohio voters are more likely than their counterparts in other states to say that state budget cuts aren't fair "to people like you."

"There is something going on with Kasich that voters aren't happy with," Mr. Brown says. "He has not done well in his first year. If he were up for re-election today, he wouldn't be [given a second term]."

This week's election can't reverse all of the troubling trends of 2011. But it does allow voters the opportunity to say they've had enough, or instead to express satisfaction with the direction state government is taking.

The biggest item on the ballot, of course, is Issue 2 -- a referendum on the new state law that would greatly limit government workers' collective-bargaining rights. Its legislative history is instructive.

The Blade reported last week that the Kasich administration proposed many of Senate Bill 5's most overt anti-union provisions. It did so with the support of Tea Party activists and the Ohio chapter of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.

Those additions turned what could have been a reasonable law into a bad one. Rejecting Issue 2 would enable voters to tell their elected representatives, including the governor, to try again and get it right.

On the adjacent page, The Blade summarizes its positions on key issues and contests on Tuesday. But as always, the only endorsement that counts is the one you make on your ballot.

The leaders in Columbus need to hear you. So tell them what you think.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: dkushma@theblade.com


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