Last week, I was in Jamestown, N.Y., to give a talk to a library room full of the kindest and feistiest people you ever would want to meet.
For a half-hour or so, I told stories that had virtually nothing to do with Ohio. Then we opened the floor, and the very first question had everything to do with my home state:
What’s going to happen with Issue 2?
If you’re a voter in Ohio, you already know a lot about this ballot issue.
If you don’t live in Ohio, you still should know about it. The fate of Ohio’s Issue 2 could determine the future of your state, too.
Issue 2 is a referendum on SB 5, which the Republican-controlled Ohio Legislature passed earlier this year to limit the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public employees, including police officers, firefighters, teachers and state workers.
This law makes it impossible for public employees to negotiate their health coverage. Other workplace issues — such as starting and quitting times and work conditions — can be negotiated only if management agrees to discuss them. Strikes are prohibited, and disputes are resolved not by an independent arbitrator, but by the relevant legislative body. If legislators can’t decide, the employer wins.
A popular anti-SB 5 campaign button sums up its impact pretty well: United We Stand, Divided We Beg.
Politicians across the country are waiting to see what happens after the votes are counted in Ohio next month. Sorry to show off, but you know the mantra: As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.
If Ohio voters defeat Issue 2, they will send a message that the swing state has pushed away from the circus currently passing for our Legislature. A defeat also would dampen the enthusiasm of other Republican state legislators just itchin’ to see whether they, too, can get away with pummeling the rights of public employees and breaking their unions.
Lots at stake, which is why former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee brought his lounge act to Ohio earlier this month, advising a crowd of 350 people on how to persuade friends and family to support Issue 2.
“Make a list,” the Republican told them. “Call them and ask them, ‘Are you going to vote for Issue 2?’ If they say no, well, you just make sure that they don’t go vote. Let the air out of their tires on Election Day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date. That’s up to you how you creatively get the job done.”
Oh, ho-ho-ho, that Huckabee. He’d be funny if he were funny.
Most Ohioans aren’t in the mood for jokes about voter suppression, especially because another recent bit of Republican legislation — also destined for a ballot referendum — was designed to thwart voter participation. This law narrows the time frame for casting absentee ballots. It also absolves poll workers of the duty to warn voters who are about to cast ballots in the wrong precincts.
You might ask: Why? Why would a state not want to do everything possible to make sure its voters cast ballots that count?
There you go, being all logical and fair about democracy in America. You would so not fit in with the Statehouse’s Republican majority here in Ohio.
Every poll so far shows that the majority of Ohio voters are determined to defeat Issue 2. Turns out, public employees — and the people who love them — don’t like being played for chumps.
Firefighters, in particular, have gotten really prickly. A few even are starring in television ads, which brings us to a recent at tempt to play dirty with a great- grandmother in southern Ohio.
Earlier this month, 78-year-old Marlene Quinn appeared in a TV ad to describe how firefighters had saved the life of her precious great-granddaughter Zoey during a house fire. Quinn is one grateful granny. She looked straight at the camera and said, “I’m voting no on Issue 2.”
A few days later, Quinn was starring in a second TV ad — for the wrong side. Issue 2 supporters had used a clip of her from the previous ad and misrepresented her as supporting the ballot issue.
What on God’s green earth were they thinking? In addition to believing grandmothers are stupid, I mean.
Boy, did Quinn let them have it. Dozens of TV stations pulled the ad. Now Zoey’s great-grandmother is in another ad, and she’s getting attention all across the country.
And this Ohio grandmother couldn’t be prouder.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine.