Ohio: Koch-Backed Anti-Worker Bill Resoundingly Defeated By Voters

Across the nation, Americans are good and fed up. Fed up with politicians whose assault on public employees is sold as a boon to the economy. Fed up with political bosses trying to rig elections. Fed up with dirty tricks and nasty ads. Fed up with all of it. From the historic uprising in Madison, Wisconsin, to the Occupy movement that has swept the country, people power is becoming the coin of the realm. And Tuesday night in Ohio, that coin proved more valuable than the checkbooks of moneyed interests on either side of the divide.

When right-wing politicians in the state legislature, backed by the likes of the billionaire Koch brothers and assorted corporate interests, passed one law that revoked virtually all collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers, and another that rolls back the state's voting rights, citizens got busy collecting signatures to put those laws to the test of the ballot box. On Tuesday night, the people defeated the anti-worker law, Senate Bill 5, by a resounding 61 percent majority. The voting rights referendum will come up on next year, on the same ballot as the presidential election.

In Ohio, Republicans and right-wing groups pulled out all the stops to keep voters from having their say on the anti-worker law signed earlier this year by Gov. John Kasich. But despite the arsenal of dirty tricks arrayed against supporters of collective bargaining for public employees, voters resoundingly defeated the power grab, called Issue 2 on the referendum ballot, by Kasich and his Koch-backed allies in the legislature.

Early voting was shut down by fiat on Friday, even though early voting traditionally runs through Sunday. Robo-calls by an Iowa-based Republican group targeted Ohio Democrats announcing the wrong day for the vote. Racially-charged flyers were distributed by a Virginia group led by Dick Cheney's daughter, Liz. And an organization funded in part by billionaire David Koch's Americans For Prosperity even ran ads with deceptively-edited video of a pro-labor advocate designed to make it look like she supported Ohio's Senate Bill 5, the law that would have virtually ended collective bargaining for public employees. But none of it worked.

An hour after the polls closed, the Associated Press called the election for the bill's opponents.

The Columbus Dispatch, it was reported this way, under the headline, "Issue 2 Fails":

Senate Bill 5 is dead. The Republican-backed limits on collective bargaining for 360,000 public employees in Ohio were squashed by voters through a resounding defeat of Issue 2.

Anti-Labor Forces Taken Aback; Strong-Arm Tactics and Dirty Tricks Marked Campaign

As AlterNet's Sarah Jaffe reported in August, Kasich, feeling a backlash coming after he signed the bill, made a show attempt at a "compromise" with labor leaders, who were having none of it. Instead, they set about gathering signatures to but the anti-worker bill up for referendum, and succeeded in gathering five times more than the 231,149 required to put the bill before the people in Tuesday's vote. The gamble paid off.

But even as polls showed wide public support for repealing S.B. 5, labor leaders and allies of public employees voiced their optimism in cautious terms, especially as anti-labor forces poured millions into the fight, and showed themselves willing to use underhanded tactics. (Organized labor also poured millions into the campaign.)

To counter the efforts of We Are Ohio, a coalition of labor and progressive groups, the right concocted a group ironically named Building a Better Ohio, which, like We Are Ohio, is estimated to have spent $20 million in the effort to ratify the Senate bill via the Issue 2 referendum. Among the donations disclosed by BBO is the Ohio chapter of Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group founded by David Koch specifically as a right-wing "ground army" designed to counter the formidable quantity of shoe-leather marshaled by labor unions. (BBO, like other non-profits, is not required by law to disclose its donors, so the list it issued may well be incomplete.)

Americans For Prosperity, acting on its own behalf, also conducted "town hall meetings" designed to rally support for Issue 2. The draft legislation on which the Ohio bill was based apparently came from the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. (As AlterNet's Joshua Holland reported, ALEC was also behind the anti-worker law that fomented the Wisconsin uprising earlier this year.)

Putting Words in Great-Grandma's Mouth

BBO made headlines last month when it launched a campaign ad in favor of the anti-worker bill that featured footage lifted from an ad by the pro-labor We Are Ohio -- footage of 78-year-old Marlene Quinn, who advocated the overturning of S.B. 5, citing her appreciation  for the firefighters who saved her great-granddaughter from a house fire. (Under S.B. 5, those firefighters would have lost the right to collectively bargain over conditions critical to the work they do.) BBO put footage of Quinn, selectively edited, in their own ad, coupled with a narration that made it appear that Quinn endorsed the anti-labor law -- and that the law was somehow good for firefighters. (You can view the two groups' ads in succession in this one-minute video by We Are Ohio.)

Kasich said he saw nothing wrong with what BBO did with the footage of Quinn, who demanded an apology that never came. We Are Ohio successfully campaigned Ohio television stations to drop the ad.

Shutting Down Early Voting

Just three months after the Ohio legislature passed the anti-worker S.B. 5, it took up an elections measure designed, according to Democrats, to suppress the votes of minorities and other constituencies that lean Democratic. Among its provisions is a curtailed schedule for early voting. Here's how the Columbus Dispatch describedthe measure, known as House Bill 194:

House Bill 194 cuts early voting from 35 days before the election to 21 by mail and 17 in person. It also limits in-person voting before the election by barring it on Saturday afternoons, Sundays and the three days before the election. But with the bill now held in abeyance and the current law still in force, county election boards are gearing up for the start of early voting on Tuesday.

Early voting on weekends draws significant numbers of African American and Latino voters. The bill passed, but a petition launched by citizens gathered enough signatures to place H.B. 194 up for referendum on next November's ballot, meaning that the law is on hold for now.

So what's a vexed Republican to do? Ohio Secretary of State John Husted decided to simply shut down early voting before its final weekend, using another law, H.B. 224, to do the deed. According to The Nation's John Nichols, H.B. 224 was written for the handling of ballots by members of the military, and not those of the general public. In Toledo, voters protested the closing of their early-voting center with a rally and demonstration.

Playing the Race Card

When pro-labor forces began gathering signatures for a referendum on the anti-worker S.B. 5, right-wing forces, led by Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, decided to gin up their base by getting a measure on the ballot denouncing the health-care reform bill passed last year by Congress. It appeared on the ballot under the title, Issue 3. Because the health-care law is so identified with President Barack Obama, this enabled the right to create a campaign on both ballot measures based on anti-Obama sentiment.

This week, anti-Obama flyers appeared in Ohio mailboxes that featured photos of an angry-looking Obama, and a group of noble-looking white people led by a man with his arms crossed over his chest. "Yes on Issue 2 is our chance to do things OUR way," reads the tag line.

Breaking the story of the flyers, Politico's Ben Smith wrote:

The contrast -- between the shadowed president and the bright white citizens -- is hard to miss, and the details of the proposal are buried by the clear anti-Obama message.

The flyers were mailed by the Republican group, Alliance for America's Future, which is based in Virgina, and led by Liz Cheney. Smith describes the group as "a sort of all-purpose GOP 527 that's been used to keep campaigns at arm's length from their media product." ("527" refers to the IRS classification of this type of non-profit group.)

Robo-calling Dems, Giving Wrong Date for Election

On the morning of election day, an Ohio-based staffer for the Service Employees International Union received an automated, pre-recorded telephone call telling her to vote "tomorrow" -- the day after the election -- according to the Huffington Post. The call was especially odd, according to election experts, because the staffer was a registered Democrat and the call carried a message targeting Republicans, telling them to vote for the ballot measure that would ratify S.B. 5.

But the Republican-targeted message may well have simply been cover for sowing confusion among Democrats about the date of the election. The calls were sponsored by the American Future Fund, a Republican organization led by a state senator in Iowa.

Anthony Caldwell, spokesperson for SEIU Local 1199, told the Huffington Post:

"For a group that has coordinated a $1 million mail campaign, I find it highly unlikely they would make a simple clerical error and send out a robocall to non-supporters telling them to vote the day after Election Day."

 It Takes More Than Money

If what happened in Ohio on Tuesday proves anything, it shows that once the people have really had it with bought-off politicians who vote against the interests of the people they were elected to represent, no amount of money can defeat the will of the people.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She also writes for the AFL-CIO Now blog.

AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at November 8, 2011, 3:35pm