The result was - or should have been - a defining moment in labor relations in Ohio. The proposed amendment was swamped by more than a million votes (63-37) in what was described by the Plain Dealer at the time as the widest margin of defeat that any ballot issue had ever suffered in Ohio.
The consequences were even more severe for leading Republican officeholders. Among the losers on the November ballot were the governor, Bill O'Neill, who actively supported the amendment; and presumed unbeatable conservative icon, Sen. John Bricker, who opposed it as political suicide. That, too, describes the late Ray Bliss, then-Ohio Republican chairman who saw it as a death warrant for the GOP ticket. (Such political wisdom is absent today in the governor's office as well as at the county level, where the party is managed by alleged Bliss disciple Alex Arshinkoff, a Kasich soldier to the core.)
The defeat of right-to-work was one of the GOP's darkest days in Ohio's political history.
That was 1958. I was a young reporter for the Columbus Citizen and as the results came in there were worried glances among the paper's top editors, and then shock over the overwhelming size of the issue's defeat. Within a day or so, Jack Keller, the managing editor, sent a memo to the city desk calling for greater coverage of the city's unions, from hard news to features. It was a damage-control concession that the paper had been less than attentive to the voice of labor. Other than occasional reports that union membership has shrunk, the media remain indifferent to the workaday world of a unionist on the national TV news panels and the local business pages. (Have I overlooked evidence to prove me in error?)
Well, here we are in 2011 and if the polls are wildly correct, Kasich & Co. - even with enormous resources ready to be tapped from anti-union treasuries from across the land (think, the Koch
brothers) - can expect to lose a rousing battle. The governor is counting on his two favorite newspapers, the Plain Dealer and Columbus Dispatch, to orchestrate the narrative in the coming months in which we will be frequently reminded that it's hurtful to the state to go forward with the Senate Bill 5 repeal campaign after the governor offered a compromise. Lost in the dire warnings is the simple truth that it was the Kasich union-busting culture that created the whole mess in the first place. Whatever else it might have been, it was bad politics. What could he and his legislative buddies have been thinking?
Really, folks - would a brash and self-centered cowboy like the governor be talking about a compromise if he expected the repeal to be a loser in November? It's possible, of course, that he never really expected the leaders of the public-union repeal to the public at large. Or so it might be argued. But, as expected, it's the repeal advocates who are now being accused of playing politics. Please.
A long time ago, a savvy Ray Bliss had it right and his warnings went unheeded. Is there nobody in the governor's office today who comes close to having it right?