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'No On Issue 2': A big win, and a big opportunity

danps's picture

Ohio's overwhelming rejection of the union-busting Senate Bill 5 still has people buzzing, for good reason. As We Are Ohio pointed out, it was first election in the country on collective bargaining rights, and it wasn't even close. Ohio has 88 counties and exactly six - count 'em, six - of them voted "yes." It was a blowout any way you look at it, and this despite a vigorous campaign of dirty tricks both inside and out of the state. Everyone who pitched in deserved every last bit of jubilation Tuesday night.

One interesting dynamic - and this is just an observation from the ground, not hard data - was the degree to which the "No On 2" side seemed actual and the "Yes On 2" side seemed virtual. In addition to opponents talking about it both in person and on social networks, there were loads of bumper stickers, people wearing buttons, putting out yard signs, and other tangible signs of support. All the "yes" side seemed to muster was lots of television ads and, of course, the endorsement of just about every major newspaper.

(As an aside, I don't agree with Join the Future's call to end endorsements. Papers can and should do them if so moved, but some transparency would be nice. They ought to include prior stances on related issues and not present them in a vacuum. For instance, a presidential endorsement should be accompanied by a listing of the paper's five previous endorsements for the office. That might not be possible for every school board and city council seat, but it should certainly be doable on the big ones - and it would reveal political leanings that readers could take into account.)

The yard signs were interesting, incidentally. Instead of having one design, different groups did their own. We Are Ohio had this one:

The firefighters had this one:

And so on. I must have seen ten different mass produced signs, each with different colors, lettering, and so on. I don't believe that was by choice; I think each group just designed and placed their own as they saw fit. It had the effect, though, of showing opposition from many different quarters - which was very effective.

People did their own home made signs too, of course, and my favorite was this one I saw while canvassing shortly before Halloween:

While it's been lots of fun to dance on the grave of Issue 2, there are some cautionary notes. The big one is that John Kasich is still the governor of Ohio, and will be for three more years. In the wake of the defeat outlets were describing his tone with words like humbled and conciliatory, but sorry - I'm not buying it. This is a man with a visceral contempt for working people, and his Jerk Meter goes all the way to 11. He just got humiliated in front of the entire nation, and anyone who thinks he will respond with anything other than doubling down on his intransigence hasn't been paying attention.

The most revealing part of his speech, with its supposedly new tone, was this: "There is no bailout because frankly, there's no money." So there is what's next, people. He's going to plow ahead with austerity and make Ohioans pay for defying his will. That's how he rolls. And while it would be great to think he'll take the advice of delightfully clueless wingnuts and just push ahead with trying to pass a tweaked version of Senate Bill 5, I think he's got enough of an instinct for self preservation to avoid another frontal assault on unions. But he'll keep looking to grind down the 99% by other means.

And really, for as great a victory as this was, it was still just a defensive one. We beat back an attack from the right; we didn't advance any kind of new policy. If Issue 2 ends up being a singular event, its significance will be pretty substantially diminished.

Similarly, if the energy that it created is simply swung around and harnessed into re-election campaigns, its vitality will be sapped. Ohioans worked around politicians because they'd lost faith in politicians' ability to act decisively in their interest. If all of that energy gets funnelled into re-elect Tim Ryan, re-elect Sherrod Brown, re-elect Barack Obama, look for it to diminish.

The reason it was so huge and resonated with so many people was because it allowed them to participate in setting the agenda - in changing the law, not just the actors. Finding a way to maintain that and to continue putting it to that use will be the real challenge going forward.

One of the reasons the Occupy movement has captured people's imaginations is precisely because it bypasses a system that many believe to be broken (or even actively hostile to their interests). That's what We Are Ohio had going for it, too. There are lots of people looking at the political implications of Tuesday's result, but those echoes are much more remote than positive policy changes. John Kasich's low approval rating won't heat anyone's house this winter.

The long-term implications of the citizen veto will be great if the effort transforms into a separate political actor; one that works with direct measures such as recalls and ballot initiatives to advance policies that benefit the rest of us. Since Kasich has already announced his intention to force more misery on the non-wealthy, here is an example of how that new political action could work next year: A state income tax of 15% starting at $1,000,000. No money available, governor? We'll find some for you. Now hire some damn teachers.

That is something which would be of direct, immediate benefit to almost every resident, would involve the same kind of civic engagement Ohioans showed this year, and is something we could vote on at the ballot box. It could also be of enormous benefit to the politicians who want to declare themselves allies of the 99%. There would be plenty of opportunity for Ryan, Brown, Obama, etc. to lustily declare their support for the issue and thereby reap the political rewards. Citizen-driven measures and political exigencies do not have to be mutually exclusive.

But going with that model does flip the relationship between the two; it makes those running for office get behind the efforts of citizens, not the other way around. It also allows positive changes to get advanced, and quickly. And it would mean we could finally stop fending off punches and start throwing a few of our own. If that happens, then the citizen veto of Senate Bill 5 will not just be a victory on a single issue, but a herald of an entirely new politics.

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