Ohio voters reject Republican-backed union limits

Voters cast their ballots Tuesday at the Wakeman Township fire station near Wakeman, Ohio.

Voters cast their ballots Tuesday at the Wakeman Township fire station near Wakeman, Ohio. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The state’s new collective bargaining law was defeated Tuesday after an expensive union-backed campaign that pitted firefighters, police officers and teachers against the Republican establishment.

In a political blow to GOP Gov. John Kasich, voters handily rejected the law, which would have limited the bargaining abilities of 350,000 unionized public workers. With more than a quarter of the votes counted late Tuesday, 63 percent of votes were to reject the law.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said victory for unions was achieved among Democrats and Republicans in urban and rural counties.

“Ohio sent a message to every politician out there: Go in and make war on your employees rather than make jobs with your employees, and you do so at your own peril,” he said.

Kasich said, “It’s clear that the people have spoken.” He said he would take a deep breath and contemplate the loss — and how best to move forward.

“In a campaign like this, you give it your best, and if you don’t win and the people speak in a loud voice, you pay attention to what they have to say, and you think about it,” Kasich said Tuesday night.

Kasich said he has made creating jobs his priority and he’s beginning to see his policies work.

But Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, at a celebration at a downtown Columbus hotel, said Republicans and Kasich overreached on the collective bargaining law.

“He literally thought he knew more than everyone else,” Redfern said.

Asked whether the collective bargaining law, called Issue 2, was a referendum on Kasich, Redfern said, “Absolutely. He was the face of the campaign. John Kasich chose to put his face on this campaign for the last eight weeks. The people of the state pushed back.”

Labor and business interests poured more than $30 million into the nationally watched campaign, and turnout was high for an off-year election.

The law hadn’t taken effect yet. Tuesday’s result means the state’s current union rules will stand, at least until the GOP-controlled Legislature determines its next move. Republican House Speaker William Batchelder predicted last week that the more palatable elements of the collective bargaining bill — such as higher minimum contributions on worker health insurance and pensions — are likely to be revisited after the dust settles.

Earlier this year, thousands of people swarmed the Statehouse in protest when the bill was being heard. The bill still allowed bargaining on wages, working conditions and some equipment but banned strikes, scrapped binding arbitration and dropped promotions based solely on seniority, among other provisions.

Kasich and fellow supporters promoted the law as a means for local governments to save money and keep workers. Their effort was supported by the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business-Ohio, farmers and others.

We Are Ohio, the largely union-funded opponent coalition, painted the issue as a threat to public safety and middle-class workers, spending millions of dollars on TV ads filled with images of firefighters, police officers, teachers and nurses.

Celebrities came out on both sides of the campaign, with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and singer Pat Boone urging voters to retain the law and former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn and the Rev. Jesse Jackson urging them to scrap it.

Labor and business interests poured more than $30 million into the nationally watched campaign, with the law’s opponents far outspending and outnumbering its defenders.

Opponents reported raising $24 million as of mid-October, compared to about $8 million raised by the committee supporting the law, Building a Better Ohio.

Tuesday’s result in the closely divided swing state was expected to resonate from statehouses to the White House ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

Ohio’s bill went further than a similar one in Wisconsin by including police officers and firefighters, and it was considered by many observers to be a barometer of the national mood on the political conundrum of the day: What’s the appropriate size and role of government, and who should pay for it?

Kasich has vowed not to give up his fight for streamlining government despite the loss.

For opponents of the law, its defeat is anticipated to energize the labor movement, which largely supports Democrats, ahead of President Barack Obama’s re-election effort.

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