Author Topic: John Kasich, Ohio’s governor  (Read 1059 times)

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John Kasich, Ohio’s governor
« on: November 06, 2011, 09:27:24 PM »
John Kasich, Ohio’s governor, is known for his no-nonsense, confrontational style. One of the former Fox News presenter’s favourite phrases is: “You get on the bus, or we’re gonna run you over.”

When voters in the Buckeye State go to the polls on Tuesday, the deeply unpopular Mr Kasich looks likely to get run over himself. The battle between public sector unions and state governments, which has been raging cross the US Midwest this year, faces another flashpoint in the form of a referendum on a law that limits state workers’ collective bargaining rights and forces them to pay more towards their healthcare and pension costs.

At stake is much more than the future of public sector workers in Ohio. The vote has broader significance in many other states where benefits for state employees have been the target of reform efforts, such as Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

It also resonates nationally: not only is Ohio a swing state that will be critical in next year’s general election, but the referendum also reflects the frustration of America’s squeezed middle class.

The importance of the Ohio vote has been underlined in recent weeks as national campaigning groups on both sides have poured millions of dollars into the state to buy political advertising.

The law upon which Ohioans are voting was passed in March by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature and was enthusiastically supported by Mr Kasich, who scraped into office last year thanks to his courtship of Tea Party supporters.

As in Wisconsin, which passed a similar measure, the bill sparked the fury of Democratic activists and trade unions. Thousands of protesters descended on the state capitol building in Columbus to demand it be blocked.

When they failed, the protesters turned their efforts to securing a referendum to have it overturned. They set out to secure the 231,000 valid petition signatures needed to have the law put on the ballot. Ultimately, they collected 900,000 signatures – indicating the strength of the reaction the law has provoked.

The law bans strikes by all of Ohio’s 350,000 government workers, restricts collective bargaining in the public sector, requires all public employees to pay at least 15 per cent of their healthcare premiums and 10 per cent of their salaries to pension contributions, and forces more meritocratic calculations on pay and job cuts. It also reduces sick leave and caps holiday time at five weeks a year.

Its proponents say decades of over-generous benefits for public workers – including not asking some to contribute at all to their healthcare premiums and guaranteed pensions – have burdened Ohio with one of the US’s highest state tax rates. This preferential treatment of state employees has particularly punished struggling middle-class workers employed by private companies, they say, who effectively pay for both their own benefits and those of their peers in the public sector.

Conversely, opponents have also sought to tap into frustration among the “squeezed middle” class by saying the bill punishes firefighters, police and nurses for the $8bn budget gap Mr Kasich inherited while the state’s Republican leaders have given tax breaks to big corporations.

The campaign has seen a flurry of emotive television advertisements, one of which goes so far as to call the law a life-and-death issue, claiming that it could hamper efforts to hire more firefighters.

That appeal seems to be working. Opinion polls indicate Tuesday’s vote will result in a resounding “No”.

Paul Beck, professor of political science at Ohio State University in Columbus, says Mr Kasich may have made a mistake by not excluding police and firefighters from his reform efforts, as Republican Governor Scott Walker did in Wisconsin. “Police and firefighters tend to get the most generous benefits, but they also have much more public support than teachers,” he notes.

As the “Yes” campaign has floundered, Mr Kasich has increasingly made himself its public face. In recent weeks, as polls continue to show the law heading for defeat, he has stepped up his campaigning, effectively turning the vote into a referendum on his leadership. “I’m not a guy who goes and hides,” he told reporters on the campaign trail last week. “That’s not the way I was raised.”

Should the voters definitively reject the measure, Ohio will be much safer territory for President Barack Obama in 2012, Prof Beck predicts, suggesting that Mr Kasich’s overstep on collective bargaining may have poisoned the state for the Republicans.

The governor is still hoping for a late mood-swing. On a campaign visit to Independence, Ohio, last week, Mr Kasich compared his chances of a comeback with that of Bernie Kosar, a legendary Cleveland Browns quarterback who helped the team win a dramatic last-minute 23–20 victory against the New York Jets in the 1986 American Football Conference divisional playoffs.

“We never thought Bernie Kosar would bring the Browns back and win that big championship game,” the governor said.

The problem with the analogy was that the match was not the championship game. Rather, a week after they played the Jets, the Browns faced the Denver Broncos in the championship final and were heavily defeated. It could be a worrying portent for the governor.