Ohio repeals law restricting unions; Miss. says no to ‘personhood’ amendment

Courtney Johnson, a schoolteacher in Ironton, Ohio, raises her arm following a speech after the failure of Issue 2 on Nov. 8.
Brooke LaValley | Columbus Dispatch
Courtney Johnson, a schoolteacher in Ironton, Ohio, raises her arm following a speech after the failure of Issue 2 on Nov. 8.
Posted Nov. 09, 2011, at 4:49 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 09, 2011, at 6:23 a.m.

Ohioans voted Tuesday to repeal a Republican-backed law that restricted collective bargaining for public workers, while Mississippi voters blocked an amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person.

The union victory in Ohio and the defeat for the “personhood” amendment in Mississippi highlighted an off-year election that was defined by ballot measures.

Ohio Issue 2, as the law was called on the ballot, was passing with more than 60 percent of the vote late Tuesday night.

Gov. John Kasich, R, took office in January vowing to curb unions’ power. But unions recoiled when a bill he spearheaded curbed the rights of 350,000 public workers, including firefighters and police officers, to negotiate over benefits, equipment and other issues.

The backlash against the law began as soon as Kasich signed it into law in March. By August, when the governor asked for a compromise with unions, it was too late.

As in other states, the law became a battleground for an ongoing fight between labor and Republicans over collective bargaining. In Wisconsin, after Gov. Scott Walker, R, eliminated collective bargaining for many public employees, Democrats and labor failed to take back the state Senate in recall elections. Now, unions have their first bona fide win.

“The governor and his legislative friends really overreached,” said Lee Saunders, secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “All of labor was together on this. I think it’s a model for fights across the country.”

Democrats also claimed victory, framing the results as a rebuke to Republican lawmakers across the country after the GOP swept statehouses across the country in 2010. Ohio Democrats were badly beaten in that election.

“With the change in political power in many states last year, Republican governors misread voters’ intentions and used their newfound power to sharpen their ideological axes and enact partisan retribution,” said Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O’Malley of Maryland. “Ohioans and Americans understand that firefighters, police officers, and teachers didn’t cause this economic recession.”

Republicans argued that the legislation was not only fair, but necessary to balance the budget. They say more difficult choices will have to be made now that the law has been invalidated.

The GOP also pointed to another ballot measure that passed, Issue 3, as proof that it wasn’t all good news for Democrats. Issue 3 was a symbolic vote against the individual mandate portion of President Barack Obama’s health-care bill, and it was passing by a nearly a 2 to 1 margin late Tuesday.

Ohio wasn’t the only state garnering national attention for ballot issues Tuesday.

In Mississippi, the personhood amendment would have define a fertilized egg as a person in order to outlaw abortion, an aggressive measure that even some who are anti-abortion have balked at. A successful election night for supporters was expected to rekindle the national debate over abortion, but the measure came up well short.

The measure earned the support of Republicans and Democrats in Mississippi, including both of the major parties’ nominees for governor, but some hesitated to support it, including outgoing Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.

Opponents said the measure would have criminalized birth control, affected in vitro fertilization practices and could even have led to physicians declining to perform chemotherapy on pregnant women for fear of legal repercussions.

In the end, those concerns won out, with the amendment trailing 57 percent to 43 percent in the 60 percent of precincts reporting.

Personhood supporters had tried to pass a similar measure in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, but voters there rejected it more than 2 to 1 both times. The measure’s supporters have indicated they may try it in other states next year.

Tuesday’s election also featured a pair of governor’s races.

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear, D, was easily re-elected to another term. Beshear was leading his race by more than 20 points late Tuesday, despite his state’s conservative bent and Kentucky’s continued economic hardships.

Republicans had targeted the race earlier this year but were never able to close the gap on the popular governor, and state Senate President David Williams’s , R, gubernatorial campaign struggled from the start.

In Mississippi, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, R, easily defeated Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, D, in the race to replace Barbour, who cannot seek re-election after two terms. Republicans were also hoping to win a majority in the state House in Mississippi, which would give the GOP control over the state’s governance and provide them command of every legislative chamber and governorship in the Deep South.

DuPree made history as the first African American nominee for governor since Reconstruction, but polls consistently showed that he had little chance in this increasingly Republican state.

Other elections being held Tuesday included a recall vote on Arizona state Senate President Russell Pearce, R, a special election that could leave the Iowa state Senate in a leadership tie, and some ballot issues on voting rights in Maine and Mississippi.

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