11.10.2011 0

Kasich’s defining moment

By Rick Manning — Ohio Governor John Kasich faces a moment in history where his major initiative to reform the relationship between public employee unions and the taxpayers who pay for them has been soundly defeated in a state referendum.

The question Kasich must answer is whether this was a battle lost due to the mistaken tactic of including highly popular police and firefighter unions into the reforms or whether it is a lost war, dooming the state of Ohio to spiraling public employee costs that are political suicide to attempt to contain.

Public employee unions spent close to $30 million to defeat Kasich’s reform.  Ironically, those unions got that money from mandatory dues collected from public employees who are paid by taxpayers.  In a nutshell, $30 million of tax dollars that were paid to public employees were then used to convince the voters of Ohio that public employee union reforms should be rejected.

Public employee unions legally used their member’s dues to paint a picture of an Ohio where public safety is at risk due to changes in the relationship between police and firefighter unions and their taxpayer employers.

And Ohio voters, by a 61 percent majority bought it.

Now, reality strikes.

The state of Ohio faces an $8 billion budget deficit, which will not be closed by private sector job killing tax increases.  The alternative to having public employees pay part of their pensions and health care to lower the costs is to have fewer public employees.

This is the inevitable outcome of the successful public employee union campaign against the modest reforms passed by the Ohio state legislature and signed by Governor Kasich, but in the long-term, Kasich can still choose a reform path.

A look back a few years to 2005 in California should be instructive to anyone who cares about the future of Ohio.

Then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a series of initiatives in 2005 that would require California’s public employees to pay part of their retirements, put new employees into a generous 401(k) system instead of the state retirement, and require public employees to pay part of their health care costs.

After a similarly brutal campaign, Schwarzenegger got smoked at the ballot box.  With an emboldened Democratic controlled legislature, the California Governor sounded retreat and attempted to work with the legislature to find a budget solution.  California has been in a budget crisis ever since.  2005 was the tipping point for the state beyond which there has not been any return, and Schwarzenegger never recovered politically.

Governor Kasich does not have to follow the failed California model.  He has seen the issues that resonated with the voters against real public employee reforms and can craft legislation that addresses these fears.  It won’t be as fair, or as pure, but it will show he both listened to the people of Ohio, but refused to consign the state to the death spiral that is California.

Governor Kasich can choose to learn from this battle, or he can declare the war lost by turning away.

How a person responds to adversity marks their character, not how they act in victory.  Today, the wounds are fresh, but tomorrow the same problems remain.

The days ahead will determine how John Kasich’s story gets told.  Did he continue to fight even in the face of a large well-funded foe, or did he flinch because times got tough.

We will soon learn if John Kasich chooses to seize the national stage by jumping back into the fray, or if he recedes, defeated by his political foes.

Today, his opponents are writing John Kasich’s political epitaph.  Yet, Kasich is the only one who can determine if this is end of his political story or an interesting chapter of perseverance, strength and victory.

The easy path would be to just move on, and not enter back into the fight to restore balance between public employees and those who pay their salaries.

But nothing worthwhile has ever been accomplished by taking the easy path.

Rick Manning is the Director of Communications for Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RManning957.

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