The vote that Ohioans will cast in November on the new law restricting collective-bargaining rights for public employees will establish the direction the state will follow in years to come.
If the law, generally referred to as Senate Bill 5, is endorsed by the voters, Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Republican dominated General Assembly will be justified in viewing the outcome as an invitation to go even further in their assault on organized labor and public employees.
On the other hand, if Ohioans scuttle the collective bargaining-reform law in November, it will force the governor and the Legislature to reassess their agenda as it pertains to the 360,000 public-union employees.
In other words, there is much more at stake than just SB5.
Last November, Kasich, a former congressman, led a Republican juggernaut that captured every statewide office. Democrats are still licking their wounds, but the vote on SB5 would be their resurrection. That is why they assumed such a leading role in the petition drive. The labor unions, public employees and the Democrats secured 1,298,301 signatures in just three months.
The drive has energized the opponents of SB5, which means the next four months will be a political sight to behold.
But Republicans have also been energized — by the legislation they have rammed through the General Assembly. The new laws are tilting Ohio to the political right.
Consider the $56 million biennium budget that Kasich orchestrated and the GOP legislators embraced. The spending blueprint was presented under the guise of filling an $8 billion revenue shortfall that the Republicans have blamed on former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
On Wednesday, after the budget had been approved by the House and Senate, Ohio Right to Life issued a press release under the following heading: “Ohio Legislature Passes Pro-Life State Budget — Four Right to Life amendments included in final budget legislation.”
“Among other things, the state budget contains Ohio Right to Life amendments that will protect taxpayer dollars from paying for abortion,” the release states.
There are many other tidbits like that one scattered throughout the budget, which reflect the GOP’s conservative bent.
But all that will pale in comparison to what Kasich and his political allies will do if Senate Bill 5 is embraced by the people of Ohio in the general election.
In May, House Speaker William Batchelder unveiled a measure creating a 32-member Constitutional Modernization Commission that would review the Constitution and recommend changes.
According to the Associated Press, voters will get the chance next year to decide whether to call a constitutional convention, a question that comes up every 20 years.
The wire service quoted the speaker as saying such a process worked well in the 1970s. Voters last approved a call for a convention in 1910.
Jim Provance, the Toledo Blade’s Columbus bureau chief, quoted Batchelder thus:
“Issues addressing the number of local governments and school districts in the state, tax structure, local home rule, and the state constitutional role when it comes to education could all be ripe for debate when it comes to ‘modernization’ of the Ohio Constitution.”
That’s all well and good, but here’s an issue that Kasich and the Republicans can be expected to pursue with the constitutional commission: Making Ohio a right-to-work state.
Shortly after Kasich’s victory in last November’s gubernatorial election, a long-time Republican political operative in Columbus discussed the new governor’s agenda. At the top of the list: Stripping public employees of many of the rights they have enjoyed for decades under the original collective-bargaining law. Next on the list: Making Ohio a right-to-work state.
While neither the governor nor the Republican legislative leaders have publicly endorsed the idea, prominent GOP supporters have talked about Ohio’s disadvantage in job creation when competing against states that have laws on the books that create open shops in the workplace.
That is why the SB5 vote is crucial.