Monday, February 28, 2011

How is Ohio different from Wisconsin?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he talks to John Kasich every day. Ohio’s governor is pushing just as hard as Walker to curb the power of public employee unions, sparking massive protests at both state capitols. Both governors are looking at Mitch Daniels’ union-taming, debt-slashing success in Indiana and saying that’s the way to cure their state’s financial illness.

So why is Madison the new capital of American protest, our new Cairo-like TV-drama stage, and not Columbus?

It’s not just that Wisconsin Democrats have upped the drama by deciding the only way to stop Walker’s bill is by a filibustering at an out-of-state Best Western. (A run for the border won’t do the Ohio Democrats’ tiny Senate caucus any good.)

It’s not just that protest is part of the culture in Madison, a classic liberal college town, or that the Wisconsin left is tapping a 100-year tradition of feistiness, which goes all the way back to gutsy progressive Fighting Bob La Follette. It’s not just that the Wisconsin state capitol lets people sleep over, giving the cheeseheads an opening to create a 24-hour happening, a marble-pillared commune. Or that Ohio lefties and unionists are more likely to swamp the capitol on hearing day, then go home and go to work.

The difference might be – might be – that Ohio is in a more moderate mood than Wisconsin right now, and that some of our state’s moderate Republicans are looking for a compromise. Some Republican senators are distinctly lukewarm about Senate Bill 5. They’re not spoiling for a fight. Unlike Wisconsin’s Republicans under Walker, they’re thinking independently, looking to reform collective bargaining with public employees but not tear it up.

Already Senate Republicans have snipped a ban on collective bargaining for state employees out of SB5, preserving their right to bargain for wages. This week, the Senate considers more amendments. As they do, pay close attention to two Northeast Ohio Republicans, Tim Grendell and Tom Patton. Grendell, though a member of the hard-right “Caveman Caucus,” is looking for ways to change SB5. Patton, a Republican and union member, is being super-careful – note his no-comment to Phillip Morris last week – but he, too, seems to be looking for a compromise way out.

I’m not saying Grendell and Patton are the swing votes – Kasich may eke out a victory without them. But their intriguing disagreements with their party say a lot about where the debate may be going – both in the legislature and at what’s probably SB5’s ultimate destination, a statewide referendum this fall.

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