The Battleground: Ohio’s New Politics of Class, Money, and Anger. What Does That Mean for November?
Lodge 141 of the Fraternal Order of Police is housed, along with 446 jail cells, inside the Mahoning County Justice Center, a forbidding brick and steel hulk at the edge of the frayed downtown of Youngstown, Ohio. It’s a humble office, but its proprietors have embellished it with a number of rather pointed political decorations. There is a spoof of Shepard Fairey’s iconic Barack Obama poster, with the face of Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, in place of the president’s and the word “DOUCHE” written across the bottom instead of “HOPE.” There is a newspaper clip describing protests by police officers last year in Columbus, the state capital. And there is a quotation from Martin Luther King decrying “right-to-work” laws, which limit the power of unions.
The decorations commemorate a series of events that began early in 2011, when Kasich—having been swept to power in the Republican wave of 2010—pushed for a bill that would have severely curtailed the collective-bargaining rights of public employees, including police officers. Known as Senate Bill 5, or SB5, the measure passed the state legislature in March, but not before sparking angry protests from organized labor and its allies. By June, opponents of the bill had gathered enough signatures to force the issue onto a statewide ballot. And, on November 8, Ohio voters delivered a sharp rebuke to Kasich, overturning SB5 by a margin of 62 to 38 percent. Exit polls showed a majority of independents and even a sizable minority of Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Overall, 313,000 more people voted against the bill than had voted for Kasich a year earlier.
Lodge 141’s president, Sergeant T.J. Assion, told me that he was leaving the memorabilia on the wall for a reason: The battle over the legislation had a lasting impact on him and many other members of the union who generally leaned Republican. “We keep it up there to remind ourselves,” said Assion, a Marine veteran. “I myself have been a registered Republican my entire life, but that changed this time.” By undermining public-employee collective-bargaining rights, the legislation “was going to strip away every single thing we hold dear,” he said. “You start saying, ‘Working men and women don’t have a voice at the table.’”