Ohio Collective Bargaining Measure Overshadows Health Care Vote

While Ohio’s upcoming referendum on the state’s controversial collective bargaining law has become the marquee issue on November’s statewide ballot, two other state issues could impact voter turnout in what has been considered a low-key year.

In addition to the referendum to repeal the new collective bargaining law -- known as Issue 2 -- voters are being asked to approve a law raising the maximum age for judicial candidate appointment and an amendment to the state’s constitution that bans laws requiring residents to buy health insurance. While not connected to Issue 2, which would repeal Senate Bill 5, one Ohio political observer believes the health care vote could impact the collective bargaining vote known as Issue 3.

"There were estimates in the summer that this would increase turnout by five percent," said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, of the health care vote.

Ohio has no statewide offices on the ballot in 2011, with only municipal offices being contested. Beyond those, the ballot is dominated by municipal and county referendums, including those seeking to raise school tax levies, amend local charters and grant liquor licenses to specific restaurants.

At the same time, Green noted that there is no definitive connection between the two issues and both were planned separately. He did note that the two issues cross over in terms of voters, with supporters of the collective bargaining law likely the same as for the health care amendment.

"These issues could be linked at the ballot box," Green said.

S.B. 5 was passed by the state legislature and Gov. John Kasich (R) earlier this year and calls for an overhaul of the state’s collective bargaining laws for public employees, including the elimination of the right to bargain over benefits. Using a state constitutional amendment allowing for referendum to overturn state laws, labor groups sucessfully petitioned over the summer to place Issue 2 on the ballot.

While some have speculated that Issue 3 -- which was certified for the statewide ballot after Issue 2 -- was written by conservatives in order to drive up voter turnout to defend the collective bargaining law, proponents of Issue 3 and Green say that is not the case. Maurice Thompson, the executive director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, said the planning started in 2010.

Proponents of Issue 3 first presented the Ohio secretary of state’s office with preliminary plans for the amendment in the spring of 2010, and then fought a battle in the state courts after the state’s ballot board rejected proposed language for the amendment. The state Supreme Court ruled in September 2010 that the proposed language could be used. The final signatures for the amendment were completed this July.

"It is unfortunate that this is being argued to help Issue 2," Thompson said to The Huffington Post.

While observers expected Issue 3 to be the top issue in this year’s statewide election, Green noted that the heavy campaigning on both sides of Issue 2 and the case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the federal individual mandate law have placed it behind the collective bargaining campaign. There have been no statewide commercials on Issue 3 according to Green, while Issue 2 been the subject of multiple commercials from pro-labor groups against the law and a series of commercials from groups in favor. Green noted that the judicial age referendum -- Issue 1 -- has gained little notice statewide.

Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, the group leading the charge to overturn the collective bargaining law, said they have not been focused on Issue 3, and Brian Rothenberg, the executive director of Progress Ohio, part of the anti-Issue 3 coalition, said his group has been focused on health care. He said that while there has been some shared campaign literature, there have been no discussions on sharing get out the vote efforts. Thompson said the pro-Issue 3 group has been focused on health care and other than both issues receiving support from the state Republican Party there has been no connection. Thompson also noted the state GOP donated less to Issue 3 than Issue 2.

Green said the collective bargaining law becoming the top issue does not surprise him given the scope of S.B. 5 compared to the proposed amendment.

"Issue 2 was always more controversial," he said. "Public unions and their allies were very disturbed by S.B. 5. The labor law covers a lot of different issues, while Issue 3 covers just one mandate."