After the dramatic rightward shift in 2010 swept a wave of Republican governors and legislators into office, the country has seen a flurry of new conservative initiatives. One year later, the voters have spoken again: in Arizona, Mississippi and most importantly in Ohio they are saying too much, too extreme, too fast. The New York Times reports:
A year after Republicans swept legislatures across the country, voters in Ohio delivered their verdict Tuesday on a centerpiece of the conservative legislative agenda, striking down a law that restricted public workers’ rights to bargain collectively.The landslide vote to repeal the bill — 62 percent to 38 percent, according to preliminary results from Ohio’s secretary of state — was a slap to Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican who had championed the law as a tool for cities to cut costs. The bill passed in March on a wave of enthusiasm among Republicans fresh from victories. A similar bill also passed in Wisconsin. […]Republicans who watched the campaign on the union measure said it was doomed from the start. The law was a frontal assault on one of the most sacred principles for Democrats: the right of organized labor to collectively bargain. Defeating the repeal campaign would have required near-universal Republican support, which was not there because some registered Republicans opposed the law. […]Labor fought harder, observers said, because its stakes were higher. We Are Ohio, the main group that opposed the law, poured about $30 million into the campaign, said Melissa Fazekas, the group’s spokeswoman, and had about 17,000 volunteers out over the weekend knocking on doors to persuade residents to go out and vote. The main group supporting the bill, Building a Better Ohio, said it spent just under $8 million.
Ohio needs serious government reform, but Governor Kasich and his Republican allies are now farther from achieving that than they were a year ago. Moving more deliberately and carefully would have gotten more done and done more good.Via Meadia takes the view that public sector workers should not be able to engage in collective bargaining in the same way that private sector workers can. It is not because government workers are lesser people, or greedier, but because of a political fact of life. Government workers can organize and participate in elections for the people with whom they then negotiate their wages; their unions can and frequently do make large campaign contributions to the very politicians who will later sit with them at the bargaining table. These are rights that private sector workers do not have. The right of government workers to form political associations and to lobby for their interests in the political process is a constitutional one that Via Meadia holds sacred. But one bite at the apple is enough.However, where such unions exist and have existed for a long time, and are considered legitimate and important by the people of the state, it is not always the wisest policy to go after them. Instead, states ought to follow a more measured approach. Strong arguments can be made for cutting spending and changing work rules for public workers. Public sector unions remain the main obstacle to these changes, and they continue to have a largely negative influence on state politics and budgets. Yet voters, especially in many Midwestern battleground states, are small-c conservative and likely to remain so — while they support lower taxes and balanced budgets, they also oppose radical change. Reform-minded state governors should balance budgets and take tough stands in negotiations, but they should move at a speed public opinion can bear. Voters are unhappy with the status quo, but they are equally wary of overreach. This is a sentiment that conservatives ought to respect.It is worth noting that both Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo and Republicans like Chris Christie have found ways to push hard at the bargaining table and make real cuts without forfeiting wider support in their states. Festina lente, as they used to tell me in Pundit High: make haste slowly. The facts will ultimately do the talking even in labor negotiations. Voters may not want to eliminate public sector bargaining rights in many states, but neither do they want large tax hikes so that the unions can have everything they want.As regular readers know, this blog believes that sweeping reforms are needed to retool this country for the new century. But in a democratic society like ours, public opinion must be consulted and considered. Zealotry, I am happy to say, remains a losing political strategy in most American elections; that is a good thing overall, however impatient it may sometimes make the advocates of particular changes.