MANSFIELD, Ohio -- The fight over the collective bargaining power of public employees is just one battle in many to come regardless of how Ohioans vote Tuesday, Gov. John Kasich vowed Friday night.
Hoping to prove the polls wrong, the Republican governor took his road show to struggling Mansfield to get out the "yes" vote on Issue 2. He spoke one second about victory, the next about what happens after defeat.
"We've got to win this," he told a friendly group of about 150. "If we do not win it, we will not be discouraged. We'll move on to the next issue to make sure that the people of this state are going to know that we're going to pull them out of this mess."
Despite the huge sign behind him, Mr. Kasich didn't mention Issue 2, the voter referendum that will decide the fate of Senate Bill 5, until 24 minutes into his speech.
He spent most of his speech talking about his record on other issues: the creation of the private economic development corporation JobsOhio, passage of a two-year budget that eliminated a multibillion-dollar shortfall without raising taxes, and reforming Medicaid programs.
Poll numbers have suggested that voter attitude about Senate Bill 5 and their opinion of the governor's job performance are tightly linked.
"We are at war to fix Ohio's economy," he said. "This is a battle. This is one battle in what's going to be a number of battles that we have to wage. I don't know what's going to happen on Tuesday. We'll see what the people have to say. Whatever happens, we'll listen. We'll reflect on it.
"But I know this," he said. "The problem is not going to go away for local communities. They've got to figure out a way to control their costs. They must figure out a way to become business-friendly."
Richland County Republican Party Chairman Barbara Walter said independents make up the majority of the voters in the county.
"[Issue 2] is going to be a tough fight," she said.
Doug Mosier, a corrections officer and president of the union local at Mansfield Correctional Institution, hopes Mr. Kasich loses this battle. He joined a small group of anti-Issue 2 protesters outside the banquet hall.
His local's current contract contains provisions on staffing levels, an issue that would be taken off the negotiating table if Issue 2 passes Tuesday. "We're 100 officers short as of [Thursday] yesterday and there are mandations every day," he said. "If you work eight hours and they don't have anybody to replace you, you have to work another eight hours."
Mr. Kasich has headlined a series of these pro-Issue 2 events across the state, typically speaking to crowds already in his corner while opponents protest outside. The campaign to save Senate Bill 5 kicked into high gear this week as groups from inside and outside Ohio poured money into last-minute TV ads in hopes of turning around what polls have suggested could be sound rejection of the law Tuesday.
Among its many provisions, Senate Bill 5 would prohibit public employee strikes, limit topics for contract negotiation, require employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health insurance premiums, prohibit local governments from picking up any portion of employees' share of pension contributions, and eliminate the automatic deduction of "fair share fees," in lieu of dues, from the pay of those who do not join a workplace union.
Mr. Kasich and House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) focused primarily on the health-care and pension portions of the law that polls have shown are popular even with voters who plan to vote against the measure.
Jim Davis, a retired resident of nearby Shelby, was part of the Kasich-friendly crowd. "I think [Issue 2] levels the playing field," he said. "It's time that we do something with public money."
He said he believes the ballot issue will play well in Richland County.
"I just think there are enough people around here that see the whole picture," he said. "They realize that if we don't do it, there are going to be more people laid off."
The final preelection Quinnipiac Poll, released last week, showed that 32 percent of registered voters questioned said they would vote for Issue 2 while 57 percent planned to vote "no." The same poll showed Mr. Kasich with an approval rating of 36 percent and a disapproval number of 52 percent.
"I think there is a parallel," said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. "Senate Bill 5 is closely associated with the governor and the governor with Senate Bill 5. That's partly because he signed it but also because he has campaigned on the issue. Whatever the particulars of Senate Bill 5, it does fit with his broader agenda of government reform, whether you agree with it or no. There is a correlation."
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.