OHIO VOTERS FIGHT BACK: The populist and progressive movements of a century ago ushered in a democracy agenda that included the popular election of senators, open primaries and votes for women. At the state level, they also led to the adoption of recalls, referendums and initiatives, tools for voters to hold officials accountable, not just on election day but throughout their terms.
The recall power was dusted off earlier this year in Wisconsin, as unions and their allies removed two Republican state senators who backed antilabor laws. On November 15 they will start petitioning for the recall of Governor Scott Walker. Meanwhile, in Ohio, a variation on the initiative power—which enables citizens to force a vote on whether a recently signed law will be implemented—gives voters a chance to veto Governor John Kasich’s assault on collective bargaining rights for teachers, police officers, firefighters, nurses and municipal employees. The vote is a crucial test of whether the austerity agenda being pushed by Republicans (and some Democrats) will succeed in rewriting labor law in a way that disempowers unions. The voter-initiated ballot measure, Issue 2, has prompted the most intense electoral fight of this fall’s off-year election season.
Corporate and conservative interests, freed up by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and cheered on by Karl Rove, have flooded Ohio with money urging a “yes” vote to preserve Kasich’s law. A coalition of Kasich allies known as Building a Better Ohio is spearheading the effort, telling the Columbus Dispatch in July it planned to spend as much as $20 million to defend the law. Decried by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “clumsy and disingenuous,” the antiunion campaign hit a peak of desperation in mid-October, when a Kasich-allied group falsely suggested in TV ads (which many stations have since pulled) that a woman praising firefighters for saving her great-granddaughter’s life favored the antilabor law. In fact, the woman, Marlene Quinn, had urged voters to reject Kasich’s law because it limits the ability of firefighters to negotiate about public-safety issues.
Polls suggest that despite such attempts to deceive them, most Ohioans object to Kasich’s approach. About 1.3 million people signed petitions demanding the statewide vote. The grassroots movement We Are Ohio, which has led the effort, has festooned the state with “No on 2” signs and is coordinating one of the most ambitious get-out-the-vote drives in state history. What started as a labor fight has become a measure of whether people power can offset big-dollar campaigning in the Citizens United era.
“The question comes down to whom do you trust?” says We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas. “Real people who are our friends, family and neighbors, or deceptive and misleading ads funded by anonymous corporate donors?” The answer, on November 8, will be heard well beyond Ohio. A rejection of Kasich’s antilabor law will serve as a warning to politicians across the country that voters refuse to balance budgets on the backs of teachers and firefighters. JOHN NICHOLS