What the Ohio vote means
By Gerald W. McEntee
The views expressed are his own.
The voters of Ohio sent a clear message on Tuesday. They overwhelmingly defeated Gov. John Kasich’s radical attempt to end collective bargaining for public employees in Ohio and brought an end to one of the most flagrant “bait and switch” efforts seen in recent American history.
Last November, voters in states such as Florida, Ohio, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin elected governors and legislators who campaigned on the issue of jobs. Yet in state after state, and in the nation’s capitol as well, these newly elected politicians launched an unprecedented assault on the basic rights of working Americans. Instead of creating jobs, they sought to eliminate public sector collective bargaining, restrict the rights of citizens to vote, provide unneeded tax cuts to the wealthy, privatize vital services and promote public employee layoffs. All of these efforts were designed more to reward their Wall Street-backed campaign donors than to serve the public who had every reason to expect that the focus would be on jobs.
Ohio and Wisconsin were the breeding grounds of these anti-worker campaigns. Newly elected governors Scott Walker and John Kasich both rejected federal high-speed rail funds that cost their states tens of thousands of new jobs. Both put through unwise tax cuts for the wealthiest businesses and individuals in their states and then sought draconian cuts in services to make up the difference in lost revenue. Both signed highly restrictive voting laws, designed to keep seniors, minorities and students from participating in the political process. And both targeted public employees and the rights of workers to collectively bargain for wages, working conditions and safety on the job. They claimed these changes were needed to promote economic growth, but voters rightly saw the proposals as small-minded efforts to silence workers and reward the Wall Street backers who bankroll political campaigns.
Rather than putting people to work and revitalizing their state economies, Kasich and Walker attempted to falsely paint a picture of police, teachers, nurses and firefighters bankrupting their states with high salaries and lavish benefits. They sought to divide workers, suggesting that private sector workers were making all the sacrifices during the economic downturn. “Public employees can’t be haves, while private sector employees are have-nots,” Scott Walker told reporters. But this fiction proved hard to sell. Public employees had not caused the economy to tank, and the public has come to sense that Walker and Kasich were less interested in creating real solutions to the problems facing their states than in targeting unions for political reasons.
Governor Kasich, a former member of Congress, Fox News personality, and managing director at Lehman Brothers, pushed through massive tax giveaways in his first days in office – including an end to the inheritance tax for millionaires – and then slashed $3.1 billion in aid to Ohio’s cities and public services to make up the difference in lost revenues. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker followed the same pattern, cutting taxes for the businesses and individuals at the top and then claiming cuts in public programs were necessary because of the need to balance the state’s budget.
In response, both governors inspired massive protests, the largest in the history of both states, with tens of thousands of citizens turning out to reject policies designed to reward the few at the expense of the public at large. These public demonstrations were a precursor of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as Wisconsin and Ohio working men and women took decisive action to alert the nation to the attack being made on working families and their ability to achieve the American Dream.
The voters in both states wanted jobs, not attacks on workers. Rather than improving things in their states, Walker and Kasich have been dragging down job creation in the Buckeye and Badger states. In September alone, as the country was adding 160,000 jobs, Ohio lost nearly 22,000 jobs while Wisconsin lost more than 12,000. Similar losses were seen in other states with governors who have attacked public employees, including Rick Snyder’s Michigan and Chris Christie’s New Jersey. Those two states lost more than 11,000 jobs in September.
Now the voters in both Wisconsin and Ohio have spoken. In August, Wisconsin voters defeated two of Scott Walker’s allies and eliminated his working majority in the state Senate. Ohio voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected John Kasich’s cornerstone legislation to deny workers a voice on the job, cut essential programs and eliminate collective bargaining. The message to politicians across the country should be clear: Jobs need to be the priority, not attacks on workers and the programs citizens rely upon in good times and bad. It’s a message that should not be lost on the members of the Congressional supercommittee, who appear to be considering deep cuts in Medicare, Social Security and other programs supported by the vast majority of Americans. Voters will not tolerate unnecessary cuts in vital programs and attacks on working families while the very wealthy are rewarded with tax breaks they neither deserve nor need.
PHOTO: Firefighters Thomas Eickelberger (L) and Todd Schlenk work at a phone bank urging voters to vote against a bill that limits collective bargaining rights for public safety in Hamilton, Ohio, October 20, 2011. REUTERS/Mary Wisniewski