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Published: Thursday, 8/11/2011

Wis. vote no guide on Senate Bill 5

Ohioans will make up their own minds on labor measure, parties say

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- Both sides in Ohio's fight over the collective bargaining rights of more than 350,000 government workers say voters shouldn't read too much into the results of what was essentially the same fight Tuesday on a different battlefield.

The Democratic effort to recall six Wisconsin Republican state senators in retaliation for their votes stripping public employees there of most of their union rights yielded mixed results. Democrats unseated two GOP incumbents, short of the three they needed to seize control of the Wisconsin Senate and create a fire wall to block Gov. Scott Walker's policies.

In Ohio, where legislative recall is not an option, voters will directly give Senate Bill 5 a thumbs up or down as Issue 2 on the Nov. 8 ballot.

"There are a lot of similarities -- two new Republican governors being challenged, both fairly unpopular; labor activated with a great deal of money in an off-time election,'' said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

He said both sides could take something away from Tuesday's election results in Wisconsin.

"[Democrats] can say, 'We came incredibly close. We ousted two entrenched Republican incumbents. Recall elections are rare and often fail,' " Mr. Sabato said. "I can see Republicans saying, 'Look, $30 million spent in Wisconsin to change the complexion of the Senate. We can stop it here, too.' Both sides will exaggerate and distort."

Ohio is looking ahead at a likely expensive and bitter campaign over whether to repeal Senate Bill 5, a law enacted solely by Republicans and signed by GOP Gov. John Kasich. A Quinnipiac Poll released in late July suggested most Ohio voters have already taken sides with just 12 percent undecided.

The poll said 56 percent of voters want to repeal the law compared to 32 percent who want to keep it.

Ohio's law has been placed on hold pending the Nov. 8 vote. It cuts a broader swath than Wisconsin's, affecting police and firefighters, who are exempt under Wisconsin's law, to the mix of teachers, water and sewer workers, clerks, and other public employees whose bargaining rights would be curtailed.

The lengthy Senate Bill 5 would, among other things, prohibit all public employee strikes, limit topics for negotiation, require workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums, and prohibit governments from picking up part of a worker's contribution to his own pension.

It eliminates the ability of workplace unions to automatically deduct "fair share'' fees from non-members' paychecks in lieu of dues and creates a system to bring finality to contract disputes that, in most cases, would hand the final vote to management, the government employer.

Jason Mauk, spokesman for the pro-Senate Bill 5 group Building a Better Ohio, said he doesn't believe voters here were fixated with what was happening in the Badger State.

"Ohioans are not looking to another state to determine where they stand on Issue 2," he said. "We're dealing with a statewide ballot referendum. They were engaged in local candidate elections. That's a big difference in the style of campaign and level of voter interest, not to mention the difference between two pieces of legislation that have drawn attention in both states."

He said, however, that the final results were encouraging.

"They certainly put in significant resources and drew an enormous amount of national attention to this attempt to topple the balance of power in the state,'' Mr. Mauk said. "They failed to do that, but the take-away from that outcome doesn't really go beyond Wisconsin's border.''

Melissa Fazekas, spokesman for the largely Democratic and labor-driven We Are Ohio, said comparing the Ohio and Wisconsin battles is like comparing apples and oranges.

"What Wisconsin was doing was recalling specific senators in specific districts," she said.

"Ohio's is a referendum, a statewide issue. It's a different set of circumstances," Ms. Fazekas said. "We're just focused on the 1.3 million Ohioans who want to repeal the law in November.''

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



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