TOPICS > Politics

Ohio Voters Reject Law Curbing Union Rights

November 9, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
Voters around the country went to the polls on Tuesday to answer some critical ballot questions. Judy Woodruff examines the results in Ohio, where voters overturned a law curbing union rights, with Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Voters around the country went to the polls yesterday and delivered some firm answers to critical questions on the ballot.

The marquee result yesterday came in Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a law curbing collective bargaining rights for state employees. The 61 percent to 39 percent outcome was a major victory for labor unions and their Democratic allies.

Teacher Courtney Johnson welcomed the news at a rally last night in Columbus.

COURTNEY JOHNSON, Ohio teacher: We thank you, Ohio, for your historic and overwhelming support of collective bargaining rights for our everyday heroes. Clearly and emphatically, Ohioans have said to the politicians who passed Senate Bill 5 and supported Issue 2, we don’t turn our backs on the people who watch ours.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The vote was a major blow to first-term Gov. John Kasich, who championed the law.

GOV. JOHN KASICH, R-Ohio: You know, you a campaign like this, you give it your best. 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. And so people ask, what will you do if this doesn’t fail? I can tell you. Now it’s a chance for me to catch my breath and try to gather my thoughts together as to what we do next.

So help me God.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A year after riding the Tea Party and Republican wave into office, Kasich has found his approval ratings upside-down after he put the fight against collective bargaining rights front and center.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, voters blocked another ballot measure that would have recognized a fertilized human egg as a person under the state’s constitution. Opponents said the so-called personhood amendment, known as Initiative 26, would have had far-reaching consequences, such as criminalizing birth control and restricting in vitro fertilization.

The Rev. Carol Burnett of Gulfport:

REV. CAROL BURNETT, Gulfport resident: Twenty-six would force victims of rape and incest to carry pregnancies caused by their criminal attackers; 26 would make some forms of contraception, our best strategy against abortion, illegal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Supporters of the effort insisted such claims simply were not true.

CHET GALLAGHER, Personhood USA: … will end abortion and it will end cloning. It will not stop contraception. It will not ban in vitro fertilization. Women with miscarriages will not be investigated. Those are all lies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The vote against the amendment was a resounding 58 percent to 42 percent.

And a year after incumbents took it on the chin, yesterday’s two governor’s races told a different story. Mississippi’s Lieutenant Gov. Phil Bryant easily defeated his Democratic opponent to keep the office in Republican hands.

PHIL BRYANT, (R) Miss. governor-elect: We’re going to do something very, very special. We’re going to change Mississippi, not because Haley Barbour hasn’t done such a wonderful job, but we’re going to build on what he’s able to do, because, you see, the change comes with that foundation that has been laid.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Kentucky, meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Steve Beshear coasted to a second term.

GOV. STEVE BESHEAR, D-Ky.: Folks, this election was never about party. It was always about which candidate could best bring this commonwealth together to tackle the challenges that we have.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Arizona, state Senate President Russell Pearce, architect of the state’s tough new immigration law, was ousted from office in a recall election by a fellow Republican in what many observers describe as a rebuke to his polarizing positions, while, in Virginia, Republicans made gains in both the Statehouse and Senate in a state that is certain to be at the center of next year’s presidential election.

I’m joined now by Karen Kasler, statehouse bureau chief for Ohio Public Radio and Television. She’s been covering the high-profile ballot measure campaign from Columbus, Ohio.

Karen, it’s good to see you again.

First of all, remind us how this measure ended up on the ballot.

KAREN KASLER, Ohio Public Radio: Well, this is the latest chapter in a story that started back in 2010, when Republicans swept every office on the statewide ballot, starting with John Kasich as governor.

And when Gov. Kasich came into office, he made it pretty clear that he was a little bit concerned about the power that the unions that represent state and local workers had in terms of bargaining and in terms of getting benefit packages and salaries and that sort of thing.

He and Republicans then helped craft this bill, Senate Bill 5, which started to look a little bit at those collective bargaining situations and also tried to expand a little bit more on that. This was a 300-page bill that came into effect. And so they tried to send the message that this was something that would help state and local governments contain costs at a time when the state was sending less money to local governments and schools.

But then unions and their allies saw this measure, the Senate Bill 5, and decided that it was too far-reaching, because it also took out some things like fair share dues payments for people who want to opt out of being in a union. And so they mounted a huge petition drive, gathered 1.3 million signatures, the largest number of signatures gathered for a referendum in Ohio history.

They got their message out very clearly. They kept the message going throughout the campaign. And in the end, they ended up defeating this law and winning and energizing a base that really was less than enthusiastic back in 2010.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Gov. Kasich had been personally identified with this.

KAREN KASLER: Right, and it was interesting to see Gov. Kasich at the forefront of this, considering his approval ratings are pretty low according to recent polls.

But he’s certainly taken on the mantle of being the head of this Issue 2 campaign and, indeed, last night made some public comments about how this was a referendum that he heard voters speak on, that he was listening, he and the Senate president and the House speaker, who are both Republicans as well, who helped put this whole thing together.

There’s been a lot of question about whether it was overreaching, and even some Republicans in the state have said it did overreach because it also included police officers and firefighters, who were not included in, say, the measure in Wisconsin. And so that may have been something that some people had gotten concerned about when they went out and voted against it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, Karen, on the other side of the coin, there was a measure to ban a key element of health care reform to — that would have required people to have health insurance that was passed.

So what does that say? How did that come about, and what does that say? Because they — It was — it seemed to be to two competing set of ideas here.

KAREN KASLER: And there were some people who thought it was absolutely two sets of ideas that were in competition.

There were Tea Party activists that put this constitutional amendment on the ballot as Issue 3. This would, according to the backers and the creators of it, keep Ohioans out of any sort of state-mandated health care system. But then there was a line in the amendment that talked about how it wouldn’t affect laws that took affect after March of 2010, which was when the federal health care law was signed.

And so it started to become clear that this was really a targeted issue and a targeted amendment toward the federal health care law. Now, both sides agree that this constitutional amendment won’t have anything to do with the federal health care law. That’s going to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the opponent — the proponents of it, the backers of it, say this puts Ohioans on record as being against the federal health care law. They say it’s going to make it harder for President Obama to win in 2012 in Ohio. But, of course, the opponents of the amendment say it won’t do anything, and that’s why their side voted against it.

But the numbers were very clear. Almost as many people voted for this amendment to allow Ohio to opt out of health care than voted against the collective bargaining reform law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So if you — quickly, if you put the two together, do they tell us anything about the disposition of Ohio voters going into this election year in this crucial battleground state?

KAREN KASLER: I think it tells everyone that this state is very much up for grabs.

I mean, I think a lot of people looked at the results in 2010, when, as I mentioned, Republicans swept all the statewide offices, and thought this was a state that was becoming solidly red. But these results show that there are definitely some competing interests here, that there are definitely Republicans and Democrats.

Democrats are very energized now, after the defeat of Senate Bill 5 and Issue 2. And you have got Tea Party activists and Republicans who are very energized about the approval of this constitutional amendment on health care. So this really makes Ohio very much a battleground state for 2012.

Even though we’re losing two congressional seats, it still is a very competitive place for the candidates for president to come to Ohio and run.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will all be paying close attention.

Karen Kasler in Columbus, thank you.