Kasich slaps working Ohio’s face, but will we remember sting in November?

It’s been a long and painful four years for working and middle-class Ohioans due to the (slightly checked) extreme right-wing rule. The situation stems from the 2010 midterm elections in which the corporate media machine successfully painted the incumbent Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, with the brush of George Bush’s economic disaster, thus leading to the election of former Republican congressman, Fox News analyst and Lehman Brothers executive, John Kasich, as governor. Republicans also swept all other state offices and gained big majorities in both houses of the legislature.

What followed from there was some of the most viciously partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts in U.S. history and passage of the notorious Senate Bill 5, which attempted to dismantle collective bargaining for public employee unions. The act since then has been pretty standard Republican playbook: massive tax cuts for Ohio’s well-to-do and corporations; massive reduction in operating revenues for local and county governments; the diverting of badly needed funds from public school systems and funneling them in the form of vouchers towards for-profit charter and religious schools; the privatization, or attempted privatization, of everything public that can possibly be imagined; various “Jim Crow-esque” voter suppression schemes to make it as difficult as possible for black and Latino people, students, seniors – along with all poor and working people – to vote; some of the country’s most regressive reproductive laws; working to get more guns into your local grocery store, restaurant, church, saloon, town square; letting First Energy and other major utility companies dictate environmental policy; as well as numerous hearings and discussions on ways to implement “Right to Work” in Ohio, and so on.

Democrat Ed FitzGerald, who is currently serving as the first county executive of Cuyahoga County’s newly chartered executive form of government, was formerly mayor of Lakewood (one of Ohio’s largest suburbs) and has previously worked as a county prosecutor and for the Federal Bureau of Investigation is running against Kasich. While having what some on the left may see as conservative credentials, FitzGerald has demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that he’s a strong supporter of unions, women’s and GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) rights, as well as a progressive on issues concerning the environment – a very stark contrast to Kasich.

FitzGerald has been campaigning heavily in conservative Southern Ohio where he has less name recognition and he seems to be making some headway. (Possibly because he does have some outward markers of a more conservative candidate?) Kasich is sitting on a six-to-one cash advantage, having raised $12.1 million this cycle compared to FitzGerald’s $3 million. At the moment the Kasich campaign seems to be using their considerable cash advantage to pay for sleazy and personal attacks ads and “fishing expeditions” into FitzGerald in an attempt to discredit him. It seems, for the moment, to be having the desired effect on poll numbers, which had the candidates at a “dead-heat” in June and now, has them, on average, with Kasich at a six-point advantage. These types of tactics historically, usually, backfire and it seems FitzGerald has the type resume to withstand them.

The rest of the Democratic ticket is strategically garnered from across the state with Cleveland firebrand and Democratic Party rising star on the national scene, state Senator Nina Turner as candidate for secretary of state; Cincinnati County Commissioner David Pepper as candidate for attorney general; Montgomery County state Representative Connie Pillich as candidate for state treasurer; and Columbus state Representative and Cleveland native John Patrick Carney as candidate for state auditor. All in all, a balanced, progressive and widely palatable slate. Ousting Kasich and loosening the Republican stranglehold on state government will be no easy feat for Ohio Democrats. It will depend heavily on big turnouts in Democratic strongholds such as Cuyahoga County, which encompasses Cleveland and more or less singlehandedly responsible for delivering Ohio and the White House to Barack Obama in the last presidential election. There is a solid base of approximately184,000 in Cuyahoga County who always vote Democratic in all partisan elections. There are another 200,000 who will vote Democratic if they can be convinced this election is important enough for them to turn out. Kasich beat Strickland in 2010 by only 70,000 votes.

The obvious big push will be to get as many of these 200,000 to fill out mail ballot applications and vote early. The Cuyahoga County Democratic Party is mailing these applications and will be following up through robo-calls from candidates, phone banks and canvassing by precinct committee people. They will have a similar effort to “chase the ballots” when they are sent out in early October. They are hoping this strategy will carry the entire Democratic state ticket by the win margin in Cuyahoga County alone.

The Ohio Democratic Party has also implemented a similar program in Ohio’s other urban areas. Will this strategy be the key to defeating some of the most powerful monied interests in the country, though? The national AFL-CIO has targeted Kasich, as well as his Republican colleagues in Michigan and Wisconsin and a few others for defeat this fall and expect to spend the same or greater than the $53 million they spent in 2010. Most likely a drop in the bucket in comparison to what Kasich’s corporate and Wall Street pals will be donating for his race alone. But with the passage of Ohio SB-5, Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party showed their complete and utter disdain for Ohio’s police, firefighters, teachers and every other union member in the state.

Here’s the question: is the sting of this slap still fresh upon the faces of those who fought to repeal this regressive piece of legislation, and by those who would have suffered its effects had it been left in place? This, more than any other factor, will determine the fate of Ohio.

Photo: Labor activists gather behind a sign saying, “Stop the War on Workers,” during an AFL-CIO Oct. 29, 2011, rally in Cleveland as they prepare to knock doors asking voters to vote “No” on Issue 2, a ballot measure on repealing union-busting SB-5. Tim Wheeler/PW.