“The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections.” Lord Acton—The History of Freedom in Antiquity, 1877
Much ink and bandwith has been spilled analyzing the reasons Ohio’s collective bargaining reform law, Issue 2, failed to survive Tuesday’s referendum. Many suspect it was the millions of dollars poured into the anti-Issue 2 campaign by the out-of-state Big Labor groups and the blatantly deceptive ads that ran constantly on radio and TV stations across the state. Those were certainly major factors in the outcome. Some say that Governor Kasich and the Republican legislature overreached by including police and firefighters – that they should have been exempted from the reforms because they gave opponents ammunition for the aforementioned despicable ads that implied that police and firefighters would be in danger as would everyone else in Ohio. Again, that was a factor in the outcome.
But the real reason Issue 2 went down on Tuesday is that conservatives voted against it. Tea Party members, fiscal conservatives, social conservatives – conservatives of every stripe in Ohio voted save their “benefits” and the “benefits” of their union friends and relatives.
The Ohio Constitution has an unfortunate provision that allows citizens to both amend the constitution and to call for a referendum to stop a new law from taking effect – a citizen’s veto. While all this “We the People” language sounds good on paper, the reality is that it shifts the power to make laws from the legislature to special interest groups and uninformed citizens, most of whom don’t bother to actually read the laws, let alone understand the implications of them. It has the effect of turning the state into a direct democracy.
When SB5 became law, Big Labor immediately went to work to gather enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot so Ohio voters would have the opportunity to veto the legislation that the duly elected state legislature had passed and the duly elected governor had signed into law. From there, it was just a matter of convincing enough people that this new law would cost them money and cost their beloved “public servants” money.
I began to see the trajectory this past spring when a teacher told me she had signed the petition to put SB5 on the ballot. She said they had passed it around at school and “everyone” had signed it. This was a conservative teacher from a conservative school in a district where most people would never dream of voting for a Democrat. As we headed into fall I began to see the anti-Issue 2 signs springing up amid the falling leaves in the yards of union members in our small town. This is a town where it’s rare to see a Democrat on the Village Council or school board and 56% voted for Governor Kasich. Hardly blue country, but the township voted down the collective bargaining reforms 61-39%. These same voters (65% of them) overwhelmingly said they wanted Ohio to be protected from Obamacare. Again, hardly blue country.
The unpleasant truth is that union members- conservative union members – voted with their pocketbooks. They saw (or most likely heard from their union bosses) that SB5 would cost them money and they voted to preserve the status quo. Their friends and family members also voted in solidarity with them. It’s quite an easy thing to say we’re Tea Party members and believe that we’re ‘Taxed Enough Already,’ but when it becomes personal and we’re forced to have some skin in the game, how many of us would give up part of our paycheck or some of our benefits to help our state’s bottom line?
Issue 2 could not have passed without strong support from Republicans and conservatives. The state’s 300,000 public employees (and 655,000 union members overall) barely made a dent in the 2 million votes against the measure. Consider that more Ohioans voted against Issue 2 than voted for Governor Kasich (1,889,186) or Governor Strickland (1,812,052) in the last election.
This was a big test for the conservative movement and Tea Party values and I’m disappointed to say we failed miserably. As much as I dislike the direct democracy component of the Ohio Constitution, it does give us some insight into whether conservatives will put their money where their mouth is. Human nature is such that men and women will, if given the opportunity, vote against measures that hit them in the pocketbook. Never mind that eventually, all Ohio taxpayers – union and non-union alike – will be paying for these gold-plated benefits for generations to come. At least those Akron public employees still don’t have to pay anything for their pensions and healthcare this year.
All of us who call ourselves conservatives need to do some soul searching in the wake of this huge loss in Ohio. While most of us in the private sector have had to deal with austerity measures in the workplace, for the most part, it hasn’t been voluntary. We need to ask ourselves if we’re willing to have skin in the game to help our country (or our state or our city) begin to dig out from the overwhelming burden of debt we find ourselves in.
Or is the modern conservative movement merely slogans and academic discussion?
Cross-posted at Bold Colors