Ohio voters make progressive shift

Voters in Cincinnati, Ohio, by huge margin, turned down a tea party initiative that would’ve wiped out public worker’s pensions in that city. As part of a larger, progressive wave that swept across the state and nation, Cincinnati became the first city in the nation to turn back one of these ALEC-inspired, anti-worker so-called “pension reform” initiatives.

Heavily funded by the extremist right-wing Liberty Initiative and National Taxpayer’s Union, the Cincinnati ballot issue would’ve shut down that city’s public worker’s pension system, replacing it with 401 k funds. While other ballot measures, supporting the city and schools, passed easily, the tea party backed issue went down in flames, 79-21 percent.

The Cincinnati ballot issue showed a lineup of political forces that completely isolated the extreme right-wing tea party, a lineup that some national commenters have seen developing across the nation. Cincinnati’s labor movement organized a massive campaign against the issue, mobilizing their members and friends, organizing phone banks, mailings and a huge door-to-door campaign. The faith community, represented by the Faith Alliance, campaigned against the issue, as did both major political parties and their mayoral candidates. The City Council voted unanimously to oppose the issue, as did all retiree organizations.

“I just want to thank all the AFL-CIO unions that mobilized people and especially the faith groups,” said Cincinnati AFL-CIO Executive Secretary Doug Sizemore. “I just can’t tell you how proud I am of all the people here. When they saw all that outside money, all those extremist outside tea party folks coming in here, people knew they weren’t coming here to help us out. It was just like SB 5, the same huge coalition. We beat them last year, now we’ve beat them in this fight and we’ll beat them again if they try to push right to work on us!”

“It was the unity of labor, with retirees and the community that won this fight,” according to Bentley Davis, of the Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA). “If they’d been able to convince Cincinnatians to vote to wipe out worker’s pensions, every other Ohio city would be next in line. Our unity and the grassroots mobilization of real people stopped them in their tracks!”

Returns from major races across Ohio followed this pro-labor, progressive, trend. In Toledo, Mayor Michael Bell, a first-term African American Democrat and former unionist who’d switched sides to support SB 5, even making TV commercials to push the Republican legislature’s attack on Ohio’s public worker’s bargaining rights was soundly thrashed, 58-42 percent, by labor-supported Independent Michael Collins. Collins is also a unionist, the former president of Patrolmen’s Association, which is affiliated with the  local AFL-CIO. Collins opposed SB 5 and has stated that he will stand against any attempt to pass so-called right-to-work legislation in the state and has pledged to treat workers fairly.

“Public workers are not the cause of the crisis we’re in,” stated George Tucker, Executive Secretary, Greater Northwest Ohio AFL-CIO. “Attacking working families, supporting SB 5 and right to work, like Bell was doing, harms us and hurts the whole economy. We’re glad that all the unions, the community of faith here and our friends agreed that we’ve got to go in a better, more progressive, direction!”

“It was just like the SB 5 campaign,” said Toledo SOAR President Dave Bilski. “All the AFL-CIO unions helped out, and the UAW mobilized their folks also. People are finally waking up. These tea baggers want their own paychecks but want to cut Social Security and steal what we’ve all worked our whole lives to earn!”

Dayton followed the same trend, electing progressive Democrat Nan Whaley and a labor-supported slate of candidates to replace the outgoing conservative Republican administration in what has previously been a GOP leaning area. Whaley won the general election after winning a primary that featured two Democrats, when voters eliminated all Republicans from the run-off.

“Nan has been there with us, on the ground, in all our fights” said Charlie Morton, Executive Secretary of the Miami Valley labor federation. “She fought alongside us against SB 5 last year and she’s stood up against right to work this year. People here sent a message.”

Another tea party backed ballot initiative, which would’ve gerrymandered voting districts and effectively eliminated county governance, was solidly shot down in Ashtabula, 68-32 percent.

“We got letters to editors published here that exposed ALEC and the tea party for what they really are,” stated Wally Kaufman, with the AFL-CIO retiree council. “We ran a campaign to expose the outside corporate money behind this scheme. When people saw all the outside corporate money coming in and when labor set up phone banks, the door-to- door walks, we just buried them!”

In Cuyahoga Falls, the Republican mayor, Don Robart, who’d held that office for three decades, also fell victim to his support for SB 5 and GOP extremist policies and was beaten by labor-supported Democrat, Don Walters.

Middletown, home to AK Steel, saw its city council overturned, sweeping out incumbents who’d championed laying off city workers as the “fix” to local problems. Organized labor ran a major campaign to turn them out.

On the day after elections, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown held a well-attended news conference in the steel city of Warren to announce his support for S 567, the ‘Strengthen Social Security Act,’ which would raise the artificial cap on FICA taxes and require the wealthy to begin paying their fair share. Brown also pledged to support legislation to change the cost of living formula for Social Security to reflect the actual costs to retirees, as opposed to the reactionary CPI cuts being touted by corporate spokesmen, and to oppose any attempts to cut Social Security in any form. He is also co-sponsoring, with Senator Dick Durban, D-Ill., the “Protecting Employees in Corporate Bankruptcy Act,” which would take worker’s issues from last, as they are now, to first in any corporate bankruptcy proceedings.

“We’ve gone from a nation that protects our senior citizens, who’ve built this nation, to one that throws retirees to the wolves, due to policies pushed by the Republicans and corporate extremists. We must fight to rebuild the retirement security that we’d fought for and won. That,” according to Senator Brown, “is in the interest of our entire nation!”

“This is a great day for Ohio,” said Norm Wernet, President of Ohio ARA. “The tea party, right-wing extremists were soundly defeated and this lays the basis for beginning to pass legislation to regain retiree security which the right wingers and corporations have stolen from retired Americans.”

Photo: Seth Perlman/AP




Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.