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Published: Thursday, 11/10/2011

Ohio voters cast ballots of discontent

Results signal rebuke of Kasich, Obama plans

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks about Issue 2 and election results at a news conference in Columbus. Ohio voters on Tuesday rejected a new law restricting the collective bargaining abilities of public employee unions in an unusually vigorous off-year election that drew attention across the nation. Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks about Issue 2 and election results at a news conference in Columbus. Ohio voters on Tuesday rejected a new law restricting the collective bargaining abilities of public employee unions in an unusually vigorous off-year election that drew attention across the nation.
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COLUMBUS — One message was clear from Tuesday's election: Ohio voters aren't happy.

With one vote they overwhelmingly slapped down the "overreach'' of Gov. John Kasich and Statehouse Republicans who tried to restrict the collective-bargaining rights of public employees.

Voters also rebuked President Obama, a Democrat, with a constitutional amendment designed to thwart implementation of parts of his health-care reform law.

And while voters appeared not to blame public employees for the woes of state and local government, in many cases they also voted against local tax levies that would have helped to pay those salaries and benefits.

"The message is don't get too greedy,'' Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University election law professor, said of Issue 2's overwhelming defeat. "Getting too greedy can backfire on you. This may already be a lesson learned when you look at how Mr. Kasich has been doing in most polls. A lot of that is related to Senate Bill 5.

"We don't know what the long-term impact will be, but I don't think there's any question that being too aggressive in mowing over everyone in your path is likely to come back and bite you," he said.

Opposition to Issue 2, the referendum on Senate Bill 5, was widespread across the state with a majority of voters in just six of Ohio's 88 counties — Delaware, Holmes, Mercer, Miami, Shelby, and Warren — voting to keep the law.

In the end, 2.1 million voters said "no,'' about 255,000 more than voted for Mr. Kasich for governor last year during a GOP sweep.

According to unofficial results from the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, 61.3 percent of voters rejected the law compared to 38.7 percent who wanted to keep it.

Most Republican stronghold counties opposed the law, including the home counties of Senate President Tom Niehaus (R., New Richmond) and House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina), who joined Mr. Kasich on the campaign trail to defend Senate Bill 5.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said Mr. Kasich has to take some credit for the overwhelming defeat of Senate Bill 5, referring to the governor's comments targeting teachers' unions and calling a police officer an "idiot.''

"The fellow just can't help himself,'' he said.

Republicans preferred to talk about Issue 3, the health-care amendment that passed 65.6 percent to 34.4 percent margin and won the support of all 88 counties.

"Ohio voters sent a clear message to President Obama by approving Issue 3: We reject the mandates of Obamacare,'' Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said. "By affirming the principles of state and individual rights, Ohioans have given voice to the frustration felt by Americans all across the country.

"... As they refocus on the 2012 election, Democrats are undoubtedly alarmed about their electoral prospects in Ohio because the core of the President's signature legislation has been rejected by voters," he said.

Mr. Redfern, however, appeared to downplay the party's loss on Issue 3. The constitutional amendment would generally prohibit government from passing a law or enacting a rule that would "compel'' Ohioans to participate in a health-care system, but backers have made it clear the target was Mr. Obama's mandate that Americans acquire health insurance by 2014.

Mr. Redfern called the amendment "null and void,'' voicing the same doubt as many others as to whether a state can use its constitution to block a federal law.

"It was essentially a popularity contest akin to placing on the ballot who you think should be the homecoming queen. … It's unenforceable from the perspective of the President's health-care initiative.

"Having said that, the Ohio Democratic Party spent our resources and our time … almost entirely on Issue 2. ...,'' Mr. Redfern said. "You didn't see the effort on Issue 1 or Issue 3 because of the importance of Issue 2.

Issue 2 had to be repealed. We knew that the future of the Ohio Democratic Party, working families, and blue-collar jobs in this state depended on that.''

Mr. Niehaus didn't see an anti-government sentiment in the defeat of Issue 2 and success of Issue 3.

"I don't read anything into it except what's on its face,'' he said. "They were two distinctly separate issues and the voters had a chance to weigh in on both.''

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who will appear on Ohio's ballot next year, said the vote on Issue 3 doesn't tell us anything because it was the subject of little campaigning, advertising, or reporting, and it was "confusing.''

"If they had brought up the keeping your son or daughter on your insurance until [age] 26, if they had brought up some of the preventive care and no co-pays for Medicare, if they brought up the prescription drugs for seniors, the result would have been very different,'' he said. "They took one part of the bill and did a message amendment on that that won't have a lot of meaning.''

But the Issue 2 vote indicated that "anybody who comes in and directly attacks the middle class is going to have their comeuppance," he said.

University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs, who'd sent a letter to lawmakers voicing support for some reforms contained in Senate Bill 5, said there's still work to be done.

"I have had some ambiguity of feeling,'' he said. "It's not a simple piece of legislation. Everyone agrees with that, but I have no ambiguity that the people have spoken. I'm fine with that. My own interest is in higher education.

"I don't have an issue with police unions, firefighter unions, and unions in general. They have done a lot of good in the world … I think there were issues in Senate Bill 5 that would have affected higher education.

Whether that would have been in a salutary way or not is something reasonable people may differ about. Higher education needs reform.''

The chief provision of Senate Bill 5 that he liked would have expanded the definition of a "supervisor'' prohibited from collective bargaining to include some college and university professors who serve leadership roles on faculty senates.

Issue 1, a proposed constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges, was also rejected by voters Tuesday by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent.

Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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