With two years in office under his belt and his re-election bid on the horizon, Republican Gov. John Kasich has embraced the adage, “Once bitten, twice shy.”
But, while he runs from an issue that could well be his undoing in the 2014 gubernatorial election, he may not be able to hide from it.
Right to work, which was all the rage in early 2011 in Columbus as the new governor settled in, isn’t even being whispered by Kasich.
However, his refusal to even mention the subject during his end-of-year interviews with reporters last month doesn’t mean it’s dead.
The tea party movement appears more interested in making Ohio the 25th state to adopt a right-to-work law — Michigan became the 24th last year — than in Kasich’s re-election.
That’s why tea party adherents continue to circulate petitions to get the issue on the ballot this year, even though the governor is trying mightily to avoid even mentioning the three words: right to work.
Consider his answer to a question on whether he would support the effort by proponents to place the issue on this November’s ballot:
“When you have a focus, you have to focus on your agenda. That’s what I’m focused on. Think of me as a horse trying to run to the finish line with blinders on. I’m not looking at any horse next to me. If I just do this, Ohio is going to be in much better shape, and focus is an awful lot about what this job is about.”
Reading between the lines, Kasich understands that the issue is a ticking time bomb.
It’s worth noting that during his run for governor in 2010 against incumbent Ted Strickland, a Democrat seeking a second four-year term, Kasich talked about the advantages of making Ohio a right-to-work state during a campaign stop in Toledo.
Thus, the chatter in Columbus shortly after he was sworn in that it would be one of the items on his agenda. Indeed, it was coupled with the reform of Ohio’s collective bargaining law that the governor and the Republican majority in the General Assembly were determined to pursue.
Kasich and his GOP colleagues are still licking their wounds from the battle over State Issue 2 (Senate Bill 5) that was on the November 2011 general election ballot.
After majority Republicans in the House and Senate rammed through legislation that took away many collective bargaining rights public employee unions have enjoyed for more than two decades, public and private sector unions, along with the Ohio Democratic Party, decided to go for broke and put the issue up for a vote of the people.
With more than 1 million voters signing referendum petitions, it became clear that the Republicans had woken a sleeping giant. Union workers and a goodly number of Democrats either stayed home in 2010 or voted for Kasich, resulting in Strickland’s losing by a very narrow margin.
It was suggested that hard core Democrats were unhappy with Democratic President Obama and his signature legislative initiative, health insurance reform (Obamacare).
But, with Republicans attempting to gut the public employee unions through collective bargaining reform, the old political alliances came together and put a hurting on Kasich and his GOP allies in the Legislature.
The wounds still haven’t healed, which is why the governor won’t even let the words “right to work” cross his lips.
If the tea partiers aren’t successful in placing the issue on this November’s ballot, they will certainly do so in 2014.
And that’s the last thing Kasich needs — another fight with an energized labor movement.
As one veteran pol in Columbus put it, “The tea party isn’t committed to Kasich, so the proponents of right to work aren’t concerned about his political future.”
Why push such a politically divisive issue? Because proponents believe that Ohioans, like their neighbors in Michigan, would support a ban on mandatory union membership and dues payments.
Kasich can run from the issue, but he won’t be able to hide from it if it’s on the ballot.
Note: For a discussion of the arguments for and against right-to-work laws, see Friday’s Vindicator, page A11.