Ohio Overturns Controversial Anti-Union Law

Controversial ballot measures aimed at banning abortion in Mississippi and reducing public sector union power in Ohio were soundly defeated on Tuesday in local elections that cheered President Barack Obama’s Democratic party.

With Tuesday night's vote overturning the measure, the Obama administration and its allies were quick to offer statements of solidarity and support, and in one case, a bit of partisan taunting. Photo: Europa Press/Flickr

Ohio voters rejected Issue 2, a ballot referendum on Senate Bill 5, a measure that restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees, among other provisions, thus delivering a significant defeat to Republican Gov. John Kasich and a victory to labor unions.

Opposition to the legislation inspired large protests from residents around the state this year.

Across the country, several other Republican-backed measures were also dealt setbacks, including a crackdown on voting rights in Maine.

In Mississippi, voters rejected an amendment to the State Constitution that would have banned virtually all abortions and some forms of birth control by declaring a fertilized human egg to be a legal person.

“The surface headline in 2011 was a good election for Democrats. But dig just a little deeper and you see that the middle story is swing voters,” said John Avlon, senior columnist for Newsweek and the Daily Beast.

“Republicans are being put on notice for being too extreme and reaching too far, but Democrats should not misread this as an overall victory.”

Kasich held a press conference shortly after the fate of Issue 2 had been declared, saying it was time for him to “take a deep breath” and figure out what to do next.

“When I say it is a time to pause, it is right now, on this issue,” he said. “The people have spoken clearly. You don’t ignore the public. Look, I also have an obligation to lead. I’ve been leading since the day I took this office, and I’ll continue to do that. But part of leading is listening and hearing what people have to say to you.”

Issue 2 was one of three referendums on the Ohio ballot this year. Voters approved Issue 3, a largely symbolic measure that sought to amend the state constitution to prohibit the national health care law from taking effect in Ohio.

Written by a conservative-leaning group, the measure sought to influence the coming battle in the U.S. Supreme Court over the future of the national health care law.

Ohio voters also faced Issue 1, a referendum raising the maximum age for judicial applicants from 70 to 75. Normally an under-the-radar referendum subject matter, Issue 1 languished in anonymity in this year’s cycle, and was defeated by voters.

Tuesday’s defeat may have nullified SB 5, but parts of the law may not be dead in the long term.

While much of the public attention has centered on the law’s ban on collective bargaining for public employees, the law also contained provisions to require public employees to contribute to their health care and pension benefits, along with pushing merit pay for teachers — proposals that polled well in the run-up to the election.

With Tuesday night’s vote overturning the measure, the Obama administration and its allies were quick to offer statements of solidarity and support, and in one case, a bit of partisan taunting.

Jay Carney, the president’s press secretary, offered the following statement:

“The President congratulates the people of Ohio for standing up for workers and defeating efforts to strip away collective bargaining rights, and commends the teachers, firefighters, nurses, police officers and other workers who took a stand to defend those rights.”

Vice President Joe Biden was also quick to respond:

“Tonight the people of Ohio delivered a gigantic victory for the middle class with their overwhelming rejection of a Republican attempt to strip away collective bargaining rights. Fundamental fairness has prevailed.”

“By standing with teachers and firefighters and cops, Ohio has sent a loud and clear message that will be heard all across the country: The middle class will no longer be trampled on. The people of Ohio are to be congratulated,” he said.

Labor unions and abortion rights supporters were elated with the results in the two states. This was tempered by a separate vote in Ohio soundly rejecting a requirement in Obama’s signature health care reform law that everyone have health insurance.

Ohio is a key swing state won by Obama in the 2008 election, and the strong effort by organized labor turned back the Republican effort to reduce the power of public sector unions in the state. The Republican-backed law lost by about 60 to 40 percent. [via Reuters, Huff Post and The New York Times]

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