MILWAUKEE – The U.S.’s first step back to sanity took place Nov. 8 – most prominently in Ohio but also from Maine to Mississippi. Citizens left and right had clearly had it with seeing their families served up as piñatas to extremist attacks on the middle class, so they are moving to wipe away the gains of a rabid minority in 2010 and exercise the powers of intelligence and common sense.
The next target on the road toward balance is the recall of radical right-wing Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., who – like his GOP counterpart in the Buckeye State – jammed through a law stripping hundreds of thousands of state and local workers of their collective bargaining rights.
The Walker recall drive, with strong labor support, but also with similar diverse forces within the electorate, will launch Nov. 15 with rallies in Wisconsin, more training in petition signups and seasoned legal combat against expected obstructionist efforts.
But the election brought the first strike in the public’s coming of age-refuting Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich, who tried to eliminate bargaining rights of the state’s 360,000 state and local workers, including police, teachers and Fire Fighters.
Kasich’s law actually went further than Walker’s: The Wisconsin governor exempted the police and Fire Fighters from his collective bargaining ban. It didn’t work: The state Fire Fighters’ union strongly opposed him. And IAFF, along with Wisconsin labor leaders and other union leaders and workers from around the country, blanketed Ohio to help defeat Kasich’s law.
The key difference between Wisconsin – where Walker prevailed – and Ohio was in the electorate’s ability to respond. Wisconsin voters had no opportunity to ask for a do-over before Walker’s law took effect. Now, with the recall drive starting, they will.
Ohio’s determined voters had that chance and voted “no” before Kasich’s law could go into effect.
It wasn’t close. The vote against the Kasich plan was 61 percent, also sinking him lower in the polls, undercutting his political support and forcing his Republican legislature to go back to the drafting table. More people voted “no” in Ohio this November against Kasich’s scheme than voted in 2010 to elect Kasich.
One can expect the radical Right to explain the latest vote away by citing the power of union money, which suggests they are still angry that the unions almost balanced their considerable right-wing coffers.
It was much more than a union win, though clearly unions were motivated and many unionists came in from states like Wisconsin to support the Ohio effort. The numbers and areas of victory, both industrial and agricultural, reveal this was the will of the people, more than private sector union workers and 360,000 public sector workers.
It was citizens of all stripes and backgrounds on the march – retirees, students, business owners, shop workers, all sensing that cutting into any worker’s modest take-home pay was not a step toward fixing the economy and was instead a major fabrication on the state’s fiscal problems.
The loss of anyone’s right to bargain and lies about the size of the state budget may have driven unions. But that also clearly resonated with a larger community that found Kasich’s approach ludicrous – and knew how easily they could be the next victims.
The money argument doesn’t fly either, though the AFL-CIO, union coalitions and other groups were open about their spending. Foes included a pro-Kasich business coalition, outside-funded third-party hidden-donor networks, and mouthpieces like Liz Cheney. They concocted warnings and misstatements media watchdogs had to discredit. Even if the power of money wound up even, the Kasich defeat was lopsided. That deafening 61 percent dominance shows far more than cash was at work.
Since Ohio is a key swing state in the ’12 presidential race no matter how you slice the calendar and the results, Nov. 8 was akin to the first 2012 test of which way the public pendulum has swung. It is clearly swinging to reject the excess of the GOP, and excess right now is the coin of the realm of that party’s dysfunctional presidential field.
The vote underscores the dangers of the GOP complaint that critics are engaging in “class warfare.” If true, the offended seem to have more votes, as well as more class.
Ohio immediately puts the citizenry into opposition to GOP governors who interpreted 2010 as a mandate to behave like “petty tyrants” – a blistering piece of rhetoric that offends many lifelong Republicans.
Many of those Republicans sided with the unions no matter how they felt about the words being used. Polls show 25 percent of Kasich voters opposed him on the Ohio referendum. What’s happening? Ask around and you’ll be surprised at how many GOPers regret that the moderate pragmatic party they once knew has evaporated into invisibility. So however they vote down the road, right now they want to restore decency by getting rid of Kasich, Walker and their ilk.
The election results nationally give further weight to how the current partisan extremism in the GOP is actually playing out in more conservative communities:
Thinking emerged among the voters of Mississippi, a state where anti-abortion policy almost seems its own religion. If the initiative on the ballot had read, “Life begins at conception,” many observers think it would have sailed home.
Instead, the Right Wing, trying to manufacture a Supreme Court attack on Roe vs. Wade, made it read “life begins at fertilization,” whether the fertilization lands in the right place or not. Despite huge spending by the Right, a grassroots uprising of voters recognized that most forms of birth control, and even in-vitro births were at risk and 58 percent+ soundly rejected the idea.
In the conservative Phoenix suburbs, voters bounced state senate president Russell Pearce, R-Ariz. He lost a recall election 53-45 percent to a moderate Republican who made opposition to Pearce’s controversial anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic law a key campaign plank.
Kentucky may also see a correction at work: Gov. Steve Beshear (D) won re-election by some 21 percent. And despite a well-heeled, celebrity dominated GOP attack because he opposed Ron Paul, Attorney General Jack Conway (D) survived with 55 percent.
In Iowa, Democrats won a special election for a vacant state senate seat, keeping Republicans from gaining control of the whole state government.
In Maine, where a Republican governor had passed a law eliminating long-time highly regarded same-day voter registration, angry voters insisted on taking the same-day back.
If Walker can’t read all this handwriting on the wall, even Wisconsin voters wrote large on Nov. 8 about what is going to hit him. When Jennifer Shilling easily won a state senate seat away from a Republican in this past summer’s recall elections, it left her Assembly District 95 vacant in the La Crosse region.
Democrat Jill Billings’ win there was enormous: 72-28 percent. The GOP still controls the state assembly, 59-39, but many of those first-term tea party-backed lawmakers must be looking over their shoulders now.
So dance as they will, Walker and the other GOPers elected in 2010 were receiving a clear warning from an aroused American public: Cut it out.
Dominique Paul Noth is the Editor of Milwaukee Labor Press.