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Major Backlash at Right-Wing Ohio Governor Has Him Scrambling for 'Compromise' With Progressives

Recall victories in Wisconsin and plummeting approval ratings have John Kasich scared--and now he wants to make a deal with labor and progressive groups.

It turns out that wholesale attacks on workers' rights aren't nearly as popular in a rough economy as conservative governors thought.

The latest one to realize he's overstepped his bounds and offer “compromise”? Ohio governor John Kasich.

Kasich, elected in 2010 with just 49 percent of the vote, pushed through an attack on public workers similar to the one Wisconsin's Scott Walker championed. Senate Bill 5 (SB5) was passed and signed into law in March, and eliminated most collective bargaining for state workers, as well as increased the amount of money they had to pay for their pensions and made it harder for unions to collect dues.

It spawned mass protests that might have been overshadowed in the public imagination by the sheer size of the Madison resistance. But progressives sat up and took notice when Ohio activists, led by the coalition group We Are Ohio, collected 1.3 million signatures on a petition to allow Ohioans to vote on the bill themselves, putting it on the ballot in November's election. Ohio's "Citizen Veto" is an unusual law; it gave activists 90 days to collect a minimum of 231,149 signatures to stop the bill going into effect until the voters have a chance to decide. The results were so outstanding—more than five times the required number of signatures--that the group and 6,000 supporters held a parade through the city of Columbus to deliver the signatures to the secretary of state's office.

With all the momentum on the side of the workers, and with his poll numbers swiftly dropping, Kasich has decided it's time to compromise. “It's really hypocritical of the guy,” Ohio State Representative Mike Foley, D-Cleveland, told me, “He's the one who said ' If you’re not on the bus, we’ll run over you with the bus,' and now he says 'I believe in talking.' Well, he doesn't believe in talking at all, he believes in my way or the highway.”  

Now that it looks like labor and progressive groups might be in charge of the bus, Kasich sent a letter to We Are Ohio Wednesday and held a press conference, calling for union leaders and others opposed to the bill to meet him Friday to discuss compromise. The group formally rejected any deal with the governor, refusing to meet with him until the bill has been repealed. August 30 would be the last day that such a move, which would require calling the legislature back into session, would be possible before the deadline to pull the issue from the ballot.

Blogger Joseph at Plunderbund described the scene Friday:

“Kasich’s people set up big tables with name cards as though they were seriously ready for a meeting with union leaders that had been planned for months. Kasich knew the unions weren’t going to show up. The whole event was nothing but a big theater production and everyone, including the press, knew this going in.

Still, the press did show up and, to be fair, they asked some good questions. Marc Kovac has videos of the whole thing up at Ohio Capital Blog. But I wanted to focus on one thing Kasich said in particular.

As soon as he gets the mic, Kasich says of the unions 'I think frankly that they are pretty divided.'

Which is pretty damn funny considering he was talking a table full of empty chairs.”

The recent vote in Wisconsin may have had something to do with Kasich's change of heart—voters recalled two Republican state senators who supported Walker's union-busting, while all the Democrats easily kept their seats—but Foley stresses the internal issues in Ohio that are putting pressure on Kasich.

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