Columbus Takes Center Stage in Next Big Union Fight
The next focus of demonstrators protesting collective bargaining reforms should be Columbus, Ohio where thousands, if not tens-of-thousands, of protestors are expected to gather Tuesday and shout their views about a controversial bill that puts labor unions in the crosshairs of a determined governor intent on salvaging his state's financial situation.
The protests should look and sound much like the ones from Madison, Wisconsin that have gripped the nation in the recent days and marries an uncomfortable economic reality with political opportunity.
"It's to put our children first. It's to do the things without regard to political considerations and try to serve the public," Ohio Governor John Kasich told FOX News late Monday afternoon from the same building where demonstrators will rally Tuesday. "And if we get that done; we balance our budget--$8 billion in the hole--without a tax increase and we've cut taxes on income taxes, that's going to send a message to the rest of that country that if they can do it [in Columbus], they can do it in their state and they maybe, guess what, they might actually be able to do something like this in Washington."
While the broad pictures of Wisconsin and Ohio are similar with declarations of impending economic disaster and cures of pension and collective bargaining reform, a closer look at the proposals in both states reveal a significant difference.
The Wisconsin reforms don't cover all public employee unions. Firefighters and police officers, for example, aren't on the hook in the Badger State but all unionized state and municipal employees in Ohio are subject to the reforms proposed in Senate Bill 5, which would strip the collective bargaining rights of all public workers.
"We have a very tight budget statewide and our local governments have....budgets and expenditures that are blossoming out of control," state Senator Kevin Bacon explained to FOX News. "And part of that is because of the current collective bargaining contracts in place."
Bacon, a Republican, says Ohio is no different than other states facing budget shortfalls and says the legislation is necessary, "so that we can give local and state governments the ability to adjust in the event they have a year when tax receipts are lower than the previous year."
That argument doesn't sway Brookhaven High School teacher Phil Hayes who says the bill is political opportunism disguised as good governance. "This bill unfortunately takes aim at organizations that advocate for me so I can advocate for my students. And this bill will make it harder for me to advocate for my students without those organizations advocating for me."
Columbus has already seen protestors expressing outrage over the proposal but Tuesday's rally is expected to be much larger.
A spokesman for the Ohio State Patrol says extra troopers have been assigned to provide security inside and outside the Statehouse. Lieutenant Ken Kocab told FOX News the rally will likely be the largest he's seen in 18 years with the OSP but he was unable to provide an estimate of how many people they're preparing to watch. Kocab says there's no intelligence to suggest Tuesday's rally will turn violent.
"Now is the time. If ever there was a time to show up, stand up and let our voices be heard, it is now," former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland recently wrote in a letter to Ohio Democrats asking them to attend the rally. Strickland lost the governor's mansion to Kasich in November but is clearly engaged in the debate. "The fate of Ohio's middle class is on the line at the Ohio Statehouse," he said.
The reelection fate of President Obama could also be on the line Tuesday.
Obama will appear in Cleveland, not Columbus, Tuesday making his 13th visit to Ohio--more than any other state--since entering the White House in 2009. That level of presidential attention isn't unusual given Ohio's key role in resembling the national attitude.
While the official purpose of Obama's meeting is to promote the economic importance of small businesses, his level of involvement in the Columbus rally and the issues surrounding the contentious debate could play a huge role in his reelection success.
Having the organizational support of Ohio's labor unions is critical for any Democrat to find Election Day success. Obama is no different. But if the state's non-union voters who are more likely to be independent or Republican see Obama as too much in the camp of the state's unions then he could be vulnerable in 2012.
Fox's Doug Mckelway, Eve Zibel and Kimberly Schwandt contributed to this story