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Deceitful And Strange Bedfellows: After Months Of Rancor, Two Governors Alter Tones

After Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican in his first months in office, announced early this year that he wanted to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers, relations between political parties in his newly red State Capitol fell into a long, deep frost.

But after six months of bruising partisan fights, Mr. Walker seemed to issue an utterly different message this month. He said he wanted to meet with Democrats and to find shared agenda items — an invitation that has been met with polite acceptance and deep skepticism.

“My thought is, you start out with small things, you build trust, you move forward, you keep working on things and you try and pick as many things that are things that people can clearly work together on,” Mr. Walker, who may face a recall election next year, said in an interview.

In the months after a flurry of Republican wins of governors’ offices and state legislatures in 2010, perhaps nowhere was the partisan rancor more pronounced than in the nation’s middle — places like Wisconsin and Ohio, where fights over labor unions exploded. But now, at least in those states, there are signs that the same Republicans see a need to show, at least publicly, a desire to play well with others.

In both states, critics dismiss the moves as desperate attempts to shore up sinking popularity ratings or disingenuous, tardy strategies to appear agreeable after already ramming through their agendas.

“It’s all P.R. — none of it is substantive,” Mark Miller, the Democrats’ minority leader in the Wisconsin State Senate, said earlier this month, before Mr. Walker held what some described as a “cordial” meeting with the Democratic leaders last week.

Whatever the true substance of the offers, the recent tones in Ohio and Wisconsin do appear to show one thing: With threats of recalls and bill repeals, with public dismay in recent months over the partisan stalemate in Washington on the debt ceiling, and with battleground-state presidential politics looming in 2012, governing with majorities has turned out in some states to be more complicated than it may have first appeared.

Across the nation, partisan relations in statehouses where Republicans made significant gains last fall have varied widely, and in many cases there are no signs of softening messages — or even the need for such a thing. But leaders in other states, including some that are expected to consider limits to unions in the months ahead, are closely watching what unfolds now in Ohio and Wisconsin, the states that became the unexpected battle zones for an earlier season of discontent.

In Columbus, Democrats and union leaders were enraged this year when Gov. John R. Kasich, another first-term Republican governor, and the Republicans who now control both chambers of the legislature pushed through — mostly along partisan lines— a law that would limit the rights of public workers to bargain collectively.

Republicans in Ohio advocated for the measure as the logical response to shrunken budgets in towns, cities and counties. But union leaders and Democrats — and a group calling itself We Are Ohio — spent months collecting more than 900,000 valid signatures (hundreds of thousands more than needed) to put the law to a vote in a statewide referendum in November. A campaign, which is expected to draw significant interest and spending from political groups in Ohio and nationwide, is likely to begin in earnest soon.

Last week, Mr. Kasich and Republican leaders sent a letter to the union organizers, calling for a meeting to discuss a compromise. The leaders said they still believed in the law they had passed, and a spokesman for Mr. Kasich would not say precisely what areas the Republicans were willing to give in on. “We are prepared to move forward immediately with legislative action to implement any agreement on changes we are able to reach together,” the letter read.

“We ought to get to the table and we ought to talk about it,” Mr. Kasich told reporters on Friday, meeting with them in a room full of empty seats and placards for the absent organizers, although the organizers said they had turned down the invitation. “Is it too late?” Mr. Kasich asked. “It’s never too late.”

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, said the new invitation did not mark any shift in Mr. Kasich’s approach; the governor had sought to talk to labor groups during the legislative fight, Mr. Nichols said, and some representatives had engaged in private discussions over the issue again in June before the unions ended those talks, he said. “He, more than most, has a long history of working across party lines,” Mr. Nichols said.

But critics balked at the notion that any real talks had been offered before or that any true, concrete compromises — not just photo opportunities for a public fatigued by partisan rancor — were being offered now.

“If they’re honestly coming forward for a compromise, repeal the bill and then we’ll talk,” said Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, explaining why representatives for the group had declined to meet with Mr. Kasich on Friday. “If they wanted to get along, they probably should have tried to during the legislative process instead of locking people out.”

In Wisconsin, partisan relations — and that state’s fight over limits to collective bargaining — have proved still uglier.

In the weeks after Mr. Walker proposed the limits in February, state lawmakers, newly dominated by Republicans in the Capitol, split in two. The minority Senate Democrats fled the state to try to block a vote on the measure. The Republicans issued the lawmaking equivalent of warrants against them, and at one point, threatened that the Democrats had to collect their paychecks in person — or not get them at all. And, as protesters screamed outside his closed office door, Mr. Walker firmly defended the bargaining cuts and said his administration was “certainly looking at all legal options” against the other party.

But after a summer of expensive, brutal recall election efforts against nine state senators — Democrats for having fled the state, and Republicans for having supported the bargaining cuts — Mr. Walker seemed to be sounding a different, softer note. He said he had called Democratic leaders in the Legislature even before the polls closed in some of this month’s recalls, which, in the end, maintained the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, though by a slimmer margin of 17 to 16 in the Senate.

Democrats in the state had harsh theories about what was behind Mr. Walker’s sudden wish to get along. Some said he had already accomplished a stunningly partisan agenda, including the bargaining cuts, an austere budget, a voter identification law, a concealed-firearms provision and a redistricting map that favored Republicans, and was now hoping to appear to be reaching out. Others said he feared a different recall election effort — against him — next year, as well as creating a drag in the state on any Republican presidential ticket.

“This is totally phony — a totally unbelievable act of desperation,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. “It will fade away and return soon enough to the scorched-earth method that has marked his career.”

Reflecting on the start of his term, Mr. Walker said that he wished he had spent more time “building a case” with the public for why collective bargaining cuts could shore up budgets, but that he remained a firm supporter of the cuts themselves — a fact that seems certain to complicate any effort for bipartisanship now.

“I’m not thinking that just because we snap our fingers that suddenly everybody’s going to run out and work together and it’s all going to work perfectly,” the governor said.

By: Monica Davey, The New York Times, August 21, 2011

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP Escalates Voter Suppression In Ohio

If any Democrats you know need a reason to raise hell about the GOP-led effort to restrict early voting, please direct them to Ken McCall’s Dayton Daily News article, “Changes to early voting rules could hurt Dems.” The headline is actually an understatement, as McCall’s article makes clear:

A Republican-sponsored state law designed to curb voter fraud by significantly limiting the number of days to vote early has a greater potential to hurt Democrats than Republicans, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of voter patterns from the 2008 presidential election.The Daily News examined precinct-level voting results in five counties and found that Democratic voters were much more likely than Republicans to come to boards of elections offices and vote early in the 2008 presidential election, especially in urban counties.

The analysis of voting in the 2,830 precincts in Montgomery, Franklin and Hamilton counties found that precincts won by Democrat Barack Obama had significantly more early votes than those that went for his Republican challenger, John McCain.

And the more a precinct went for Obama, the more early, in-office votes were cast….In the top 10 Obama precincts — all from Dayton and all voting 98 percent for the Democrat — early, in-office votes made up almost 29 percent of all votes cast. In the top 10 precincts for McCain — all in rural or suburban areas of the county — only 2.4 percent of the ballots were cast at the board of elections before Election Day….

House Bill 194, now known as the Elections Reform Bill, contains more than 180 changes to election law, including provisions cutting early, in-office voting by about two-thirds — from 35 days to the equivalent of 11.

Even the nonpartisan League of Women Voters has expressed concern about the bill as an instrument of voter suppression. “The League never talks about people’s motivations, but the effect of it will be to depress the vote,” according to the League’s Peg Rosenfeld, quoted in McCall’s article.

Former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has filed petitions to overturn the law. Hopefully there will be mounting protests against the legislation, which targets African American voters as well as Democrats. In any event, the Republican-lead campaign against early voting should underscore the urgency of Dems having stronger GOTV programs in every state where early voting is under assault.

It’s about as naked an attempt to suppress pro-Democratic voters as we are likely to see in the months ahead. For all of the GOP’s flag-waving and blustering about freedom, when you get right down to it, they want to make it harder for people to vote.

By: Democratic Strategist Staff, August 21, 2011

 

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Equal Rights, Freedom, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Liberty, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Battle of Ohio: Facing Referendum, Republicans Now Want to Compromise

With the Battle of Wisconsin reaching a temporary lull after the recent recall elections, attention is shifting to another midwestern state, where opponents of recently enacted union-bashing legislation have far exceeded the threshold of petitions needed to get a referendum repealing the measure on a November ballot.

With polls consistently showing Ohio voters favoring the repeal initiative (by 50-39 in a new PPP poll, and by larger margins in earlier polls), Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders are suddenly asking for meetings to seek a compromise on Senate Bill 5, which was enacted in March on a party-line vote.

Kasich hurried to sign the bill soon after it passed in order to force opponents to seek a referendum this year rather than in the higher-turnout 2012 presidential cycle.

But now Republicans are seeking to head off the referendum, or (since SB 5 opponents have made it clear that total repeal of the bill is a precondition to talks about how it might be replaced with compromise legislation) more likely, trying to strengthen their hand in the referendum fight by appearing reasonable.  It’s a little late for that.

So the referendum fight is fully on, and as November approaches, you can expect the kind of national labor/progressive coalition that mobilized for the Wisconsin recalls to focus on Ohio.

 

By: Democratic Strategist Staff, August 19, 2011

August 19, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Voters To Unions: “We’re Just Not That Into You”

Last night, Democrats in Wisconsin fell short by one in their effort to regain control of the Wisconsin State Senate.

While there is no question that the drive to pick up seats via the recall elections, staged in decidedly Republican districts, was a difficult undertaking – and there is some reason for Democrats to celebrate having won two seats in these GOP areas- there is no spinning out of the truth of this election.

The loss was both hard and significant on a number of levels.

Had the election been influenced by a low voter turnout – something that typically bodes ill for Democrats – that would have put a different face on the story.

But the turnout was spectacular. And, based on the results, Republicans were every bit as energized as Democrats.

GOP supporters had the backs of their sitting Senators, coming to the polls in big numbers to deliver the message that they too are as engaged and energized in the battle taking place in Wisconsin as the progressives and that is precisely what should have those who oppose the conservative agenda – in Wisconsin and throughout the nation – shaking in their boots.

The GOP was not just sending the message that they too know how to show up at the polls. They had a deeper message to send, one that was addressed to the unions. It was a message that came through loud and clear.

We’re (the voters) just not that into you.

The unions poured some $20 million dollars in the Wisconsin effort. For their money, they improved their minority in the State Senate by two votes but failed to come away with the majority required to put the breaks on Governor Scott Walker’s agenda.

That’s a lot of cash to spend for the return achieved.

While the other side also poured serious cash into the state, organizations like Club For Growth can, at the least, come away from the battle knowing that their agenda has not been stymied and, for as long as Governor Walker sits in the state house, they remain free and unfettered in their efforts to move their mission forward while pushing the state of Wisconsin – and the country – backward.

Now, the Wisconsin Democrats are left to determine their plans for the future, particularly with respect to the proposed recall effort against Governor Scott Walker.

The good news is that last night’s battles were fought on enemy territory while a statewide recall will bring the Democratic faithful throughout the state into play.

The bad news is that we’ve now learned that those who support the Walker agenda – and we’d best acknowledge that there are far more of them than Badger State Democrats might have wanted to realize- will not be sitting idly by when it comes to supporting an agenda of wiping out collective bargaining rights, cutting education and healthcare to the bone and disenfranchising those who are more likely to cast their vote for Democrats.

I suspect that the Walker recall will go forward – but that won’t happen until next year.

In the meantime, the attention turns to the ballot measure in Ohio seeking to repeal the anti-collective bargaining law passed by Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature. The initiative will appear on the statewide ballot on November 8th and will permit all voting Ohioans to weigh in on how they feel about the effort to end unions in America. A “yes” would be a vote to retain the law while a “no” will be a vote to repeal.

If I were a Democrat in Wisconsin, I’d plan on spending the next few months in Ohio working hard for the repeal effort. If ‘just say no’ fails in the Ohio election, the writing you see on the wall will be the formal announcement of the tragic death of the union movement in the United States of America.

By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, August 11, 2011

August 11, 2011 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Education, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Health Care, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Lobbyists, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ohio, Wisconsin Reach For Progressive Era Tools To Fight Modern Robber Barons

On the same day that Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee law takes effect in Wisconsin, public workers in Ohio can celebrate a victory in the battle for democracy.

We Are Ohio, the group leading the effort to repeal Ohio Senate Bill 5, the anti-collective bargaining bill, delivered a record number of nearly 1.3 million signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State today, backed by a “Million Signature March” parade of more than 6,000 people, retired fire trucks, motorcycles, a drum line and bagpipes.

“This is the people’s parade,” said We Are Ohio spokesperson Melissa Fazekas in a news conference after the parade. “You are truly one in a million.”

Ohio’s Veto Referendum

Both Ohio and Wisconsin have had union-busting legislation forced on them by Governors John Kasich and Scott Walker in the name of fiscal austerity, and both states saw massive protests in response to the attacks on workers’ rights and public services. The electoral methods of recourse, however, differ between the states.

Ohio is one of 21 states that allow for veto referendums. A veto referendum is a unique mechanism that allows a new law to be placed on a ballot for voters to either ratify or reject if enough signatures are collected within the statutory timeframe.

About 231,000 valid signatures are required to put the collective bargaining law on the November ballot as a referendum. The 1,298,301 signatures were delivered in 1,502 boxes carried by a 48-foot semi-truck. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office must now sort the signatures by county, count them and distribute them to county boards of elections for validation.

According to the Toledo Blade, “Just the filing of the petitions Wednesday will keep Senate Bill 5 from taking effect on Friday as scheduled. If at least 231,149 of the signatures are determined to be valid, the law will remain on hold until the results of the election are known. If voters reject the law, it will never take effect.”

Wisconsin’s Recall Elections

In Wisconsin, six Republican state senators face recall elections over their vote to abolish public employees’ collective bargaining rights. Three Democratic state senators have also been targeted for recall, in response to their decision to leave the state during the battle that ensued over the controversial legislation. Primary elections for the recalls will take place July 12 for the Republicans and July 19 for the Democrats, with general elections following in August. If the Democrats hold onto their seats and three of the six Republicans are recalled, the state Senate will flip to a Democratic majority, loosening the Republican stronghold on the state.

While papers cannot be filed to recall Walker until January 2012, United Wisconsin, the grassroots organization behind the gubernatorial recall movement in Wisconsin currently lists 189,321 pledges for recall. To prompt a recall election, 540,206 signatures would be required.

“What we saw today in Ohio was a response of millions of people saying ‘no’ to Gov. Kasich’s agenda and standing up for bargaining rights and workers’ rights, because we don’t have the ability to remove him,” said Kris Harsh, spokesperson for Stand Up for Ohio.

Both Mechanisms from the Progressive Era

Ohio does not have a recall provision, thus the referendum drive. But both referendums and recalls are progressive tools that date back to the early 1900s. According to the Ohio Historical Society, “Progressives argued that the referendum made the American political system more democratic.” Referendums were approved as an amendment to the Ohio Constitution in 1912, and the Wisconsin Constitution was amended to allow for the recall of elected officials just one year after Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette’s death, in 1926.

La Follette fought for progressive ideals — such as recalls and open primaries — to empower average people at a time when corporate bosses ruled the political scene. La Follette’s fight was against railroad barons and agricultural monopolies, while Ohio battled the Standard Oil Trust.

The overwhelming outpouring of people standing up for their rights and for their communities in Wisconsin and Ohio today indicate that the progressive tools given to Americans by fighters like La Follette are just as relevant and necessary now as they were more than 100 years ago.

By: Jessica Opoien, Center for Media and Democracy, June 29, 2011

June 30, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Constitution, Democracy, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideologues, Middle Class, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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