Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s initial moves after he took office in January 2011 were good. With the help of a Republican-controlled legislature, the self-described “tough nerd” got state spending under a semblance of control and signed significant tax reform legislation. In early 2012 he started going wobbly, but found renewed spine after it became clear over this past summer that the state’s unions were functioning “as an impediment rather than a partner in fixing Michigan.” Admitting that he had been naive, Snyder changed his previous opposition on “right to work” to keep Michigan from becoming ungovernable.
Ohio would seem to be the next domino to fall, but it won’t be easy. Even though neighboring Indiana and now Michigan have passed “right to work” this year, Republican Governor John Kasich, who has indeed improved the state’s fiscal condition as well as its job market during his first two years in office, seems to believe that he can continue on that improvement path without bringing on controversy. I don’t think so. One recent study unfortunately found “Ohio has the most oversized state and local governments in the country.” That has to change.
Kasich and Ohio’s Republican establishment appear to have learned the wrong lessons from the state’s November 2011 ballot initiatives. Yes, the governor’s attempt to reform public-sector unions known as “SB5″ lost badly, but that’s because in hindsight he and the legislature tried to do too many things at once. That gave many instinctively skeptical voters, most of whom I believe would have approved most of the law’s measures if considered individually, at least one reason to oppose the package.
The day they voted down SB5, those same voters approved the Ohio Healthcare Freedom Amendment by an even larger majority than the one by which SB5 failed. That roughly 120-word amendment, a direct shot at ObamaCare, prohibits the enforcement of any state or federal laws which might otherwise require citizens to buy health insurance they don’t want. As I wrote elsewhere recently, it passed overwhelmingly because “it was easy to understand and is consistent with the freedom-loving instincts of most of the state’s residents.”
A “right to work” constitutional amendment which is on track to appear on Ohio’s ballot next November also fits that description. Unfortunately, Kasich is trying to make the simple seem complex, arguing in February that right to work is a “massive change” that would require “a couple years explaining to people what it even means and why it’s important to them.” Earlier this month, he claimed that “right to work” “is not crucial for Ohio.”
I beg to differ. The governor and the legislature need to get up off the mat and to look out for their state’s long-term economic competitiveness. Failure to pass “right to work” soon will likely slow if not stop the progress seen in the Buckeye State during the past two years.