Ohio's collective bargaining bill could affect 2012 campaigns

One bill in the Ohio Legislature has the attention of political observers across the nation because of the effect it could have on the 2012 campaigns in that state — including President Obama’s reelection bid.

State Republicans want to pass the bill, which curbs some collective bargaining rights for public employees, quickly in order to thwart labor groups.

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Labor is planning to launch a repeal referendum against the bill, and Republicans stand a better chance of defeating such a measure if it makes the ballot in 2011 instead of 2012.

Labor groups privately admit they'd rather vote on a repeal in November 2012 to take advantage of a more Democratic-leaning electorate and potentially help Obama's reelection prospects.

"It would make it a lot easier for us to win that referendum in 2012, there's no doubt, and Republicans know that," said one labor strategist in the state.

Another potential beneficiary of a 2012 referendum would be Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is likely to face a tough reelection race next year. Brown has repeatedly spoken out for state workers over the past several weeks and has been dispatching staffers to labor rallies in Ohio.

"I just think it's outrageous that they're governing in Ohio by ideology, rather than with what's best for the state," said Brown.

Asked if a November 2012 referendum would help the reelection prospects of either himself or the president, Brown punted, saying, "It's so awful what they're doing with this, I've got to think it hurts them politically whether it's in 2011 or 2012."

The timetable all depends on when lawmakers can get the measure passed and when Republican Gov. John Kasich signs it. Once the bill is signed and filed with the secretary of state's office, organizers have 90 days to collect signatures to get a referendum on the ballot. As long as the bill is filed by April 8, the only choice for labor organizers will be a referendum in November 2011.

While Republicans hold a solid majority in the state House, Democrats insist passage of the bill isn't a foregone conclusion. And while defeating it is an uphill fight, University of Akron political science Professor John Green says enough Ohio Republicans occupy labor-heavy state House districts that debate on the measure could at least slow its ultimate passage.

"I do think Republicans probably feel some urgency here," Green said. "A whole important constituency of the Democratic Party has awakened. So, if you were to have this measure on the ballot [in 2012], it would make it much easier to mobilize labor voters, and that can make the electorate significantly more Democratic."

In 2008, Obama just edged out Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in Ohio, 51 percent to 47. And the state will be key to Obama's reelection prospects in 2012, according to Brookings Institution senior fellow Bill Galston, who wrote last month in the New Republic that Obama can't win reelection if he relinquishes his hold on the state.

GOP pollster Chris Wilson isn’t convinced the repeal measure will have as much of an effect as Democrats hope.

"If it does happen in 2012 it will have some level of impact on the presidential election," said Wilson. "But I would question how significant that impact would be."

Wilson said he isn't convinced that union protests in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana are reflective of anywhere close to all unionized workers in those states, saying, "If 2010 showed us anything, it's that their bark is bigger than their bite."

"I don't doubt that they can sustain some energy into 2012," said Wilson. "But all that really means is a lot of people yelling on street corners and outside of polling places."