Ohio Gov. John Kasich, President of the Senate Tom Niehaus and speaker of the House Bill Batchelder, all Republicans, are either very good actors, or are politically naive. Given the results of last November’s statewide election in which Republicans swept all the offices, naivety is not an apt characterization of the three leaders. Therefore, we can only conclude that their expressions of surprise Friday at the absence of the heads of the state’s top public-employee unions to discuss the new collective bargaining law — commonly called Senate Bill 5 — was just an act.
After all, Kasich, Niehaus and Batchelder had been told early in the week that the meeting they had proposed on SB 5 would be a non-starter unless the Republicans agreed to repeal the law in its entirety. What part of the following statement from Melissa Fazekas, spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, which is leading the fight against the new law, did the Republicans not understand?
“While we thank the governor, Senate president and speaker of the House for reaching out and recognizing that the bill is flawed, we are asking for a fresh start. The fresh start must begin with a full repeal of Senate Bill 5.”
And yet, the three sat at a table Friday with six empty chairs and chastised the union leaders for refusing to participate in what they termed negotiations on SB 5. It is ironic that the word negotiations is being kicked around now, when it certainly doesn’t apply to the process the Republicans adopted to ram through the bill that strips the more than 300,000 public employees of some of their collective bargaining rights that have been on the books for more than two decades.
Indeed, a Democratic state legislator who has received high-praise from the governor for her willingness to work with the GOP majority on key measures had this say about the negotiating session: “Governor Kasich and Republicans in the General Assembly have finally admitted that Senate Bill 5 went too far. If they thought they could destroy collective bargaining in Ohio and get away with it, they have been proven wrong. More than one million Ohioans have already sent a strong message that Senate Bill 5 should be repealed.
“The time to negotiate was during the legislative process, not 197 days after Senate Bill 5 was first introduced in the Ohio Senate. Unfortunately, it has taken too long for the Governor and GOP leaders to acknowledge they overreached.”
Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, and members of her caucus were ignored when the collective bargaining reform bill was being developed. When it became law with Gov. Kasich’s signature, the public-employees unions, along with the state Democratic Party, decided to put the measure up to a vote of the people of Ohio in the November general election. The petition drive for the referendum was a rousing success, and polls consistently show that SB 5 would be rejected if the election were held today.
Kasich and the Republican controlled General Assembly now find themselves having to reach out to the opponents of the new law. They should not be surprised that their invitation to negotiate has been turned down.
Ever since the GOP took control of state government in January, partisanship has been the order of the day in Columbus. The governor and his colleagues may want to rethink their legislative strategy and begin listening to the Democratic opposition.