Trying to make laws in a red Ohio leaves Democrat feeling blue


“It's not that easy being green.

Having to spend each day the color of the leaves

When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold

Or something much more colorful like that…”

When Kermit the Frog lamented his lot in life, he could have been channeling Ohio House Minority Leader Armond Budish. It’s not that easy leading the loyal opposition in a state ruled by Republicans.

“We try,” Representative Budish (D., Beachwood) told me. “We’ve been fighting for working people, fighting for health care, fighting for voters’ rights, and fighting for women’s rights, all of which have been under attack.”

“We do the best we can, although we don’t have the numbers to push through legislation right now, nor do we have the governor or any of the other statewide offices,” he said. “Hopefully, things will start to change in the 2014 election.”

House Republicans recently floated a trial balloon on right-to-work legislation. Their proposals would have prohibited labor agreements that require workers to join a union or pay dues.

The short-lived effort was tabled by GOP leaders. Mr. Budish expects Republicans will resurrect it. “They may continue to try it in the legislature and, if not, there is an extremist group trying to get signatures to put it on a ballot,” he said.

Ohioans for Workplace Freedom has been collecting signatures to place a right-to-work initiative on the ballot. Its stated goal is “to amend Ohio’s Constitution to guarantee the freedom of Ohioans to choose whether to participate in a labor organization as a condition of employment.”

Mr. Budish countered that workers banding together and collectively bargaining “has been key to freedom for working people.” Eliminating collective bargaining doesn’t enhance freedom, he said, “it restricts or eliminates freedom.”

The move to make Ohio the next right-to-work battlefront came less than two years after Ohioans soundly rejected Senate Bill 5, another Republican-led attempt to scale back collective bargaining rights for public workers and prohibit unions from striking.

“We’ve also had efforts to basically eliminate the prevailing wage requirements that exist on many projects,” Mr. Budish said, “cut back on project labor agreements, and a bill that would have effectively eliminated time-and-a-half pay for overtime.”

In the past, the Democratic leader reflected, a much more moderate Republican leadership influenced lawmaking in Ohio. “But thanks to a variety of factors, including gerrymandered districts, we now are seeing a completely different Republican Party in Columbus,” he said.

“It’s the extremists who seem to be in power. They [House Republicans] stripped the Medicaid expansion out of the budget bill,” he said. “We as elected officials have a moral obligation to provide health care to those who are the most vulnerable in out society and can’t obtain health care otherwise. On top of the moral imperative, it makes all the economic sense in the world to do it.” But the Medicaid expansion submitted by Republican Gov. John Kasich might never come up for a vote.

Ideological platforms, not public welfare, govern legislative action, from rejecting billions of dollars in federal money for expanded Medicaid coverage to limiting collective bargaining rights for workers.

What Ohio Republicans can’t win by popular vote, they win by legislative control. They maintain power in districts custom-made for them. “It’s at the root of all the extremist legislation coming out,” Mr. Budish argued.

“The focus should be on putting people back to work, helping the education system, getting good health care for people,” he said. “Instead, they [Republican lawmakers] are focused on attacking workers, changing the playing field with voter rights, all these anti-women issues.

“In 2012, Democrats won Ohio,” the minority leader said. “They won for President. They won for U.S. Senate. More people voted for Democratic Statehouse candidates than Republican Statehouse candidates, yet Republicans took 60 percent of the House.”

“More people in Ohio voted for Democratic congressional representatives than Republican congressional representatives yet we’re sending 12 Republicans and four Democrats to Washington,” Mr. Budish said.

Stacking the deck with gerrymandered districts corrupts the one person, one vote rule of representative government, Mr. Budish added.

Fighting for a voice in the 130th Ohio General Assembly must seem like an exercise in futility for Mr. Budish and his peripheral party. It could be nicer being red. Clearly, it’s not that easy being blue.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

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