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.