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Elections may signal a pause in conservative trend

Ohio overturns a law affecting public employee unions while Mississippi votes down a stringent antiabortion measure. Arizona recalls state Senate President Russell Pearce, architect of the controversial immigration law.

November 08, 2011|By Paul West, Washington Bureau
  • Courtney Johnson, a teacher in Ironton, Ohio, delivers a speech after state voters rejected a controversial labor measure.
Courtney Johnson, a teacher in Ironton, Ohio, delivers a speech after state… (Brooke LaValley, McClatchy-Tribune )

Reporting from Washington — Ohio voters overturned a controversial law that would have weakened public employee unions and Mississippians rejected an antiabortion "personhood" initiative in elections Tuesday that suggested at least a pause in the strong conservative Republican trend that swept Democrats from office in 2010.

In the marquee fight of the day, a successful push by organized labor resulted in the repeal of Ohio's new law that would have sharply curbed collective bargaining rights for 350,000 government workers. The restrictive labor measure had been passed by the Republican Legislature and signed by newly elected Republican Gov. John Kasich, who led the unsuccessful effort to defend the law.

One year after getting shellacked by Republicans, President Obama, whose poll ratings continue to languish, maintained a low profile. The only reaction from the White House on Tuesday night was a brief statement from Vice President Joe Biden celebrating labor's victory in Ohio.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in Columbus, Ohio, to cheer a badly needed victory for organized labor and its Democratic allies, called the results a defeat for "those who spend their time scapegoating workers and pushing a partisan agenda."

Kasich told reporters in Columbus that the bruising defeat would force him to "take a deep breath and spend some time reflecting on what happened here."

In the Phoenix suburbs, state Senate President Russell Pearce, the architect of Arizona's contentious immigration law, was defeated by fellow Republican Jerry Lewis in the state's first recall election of a sitting lawmaker.

"I'm grateful for the battles that we've won," Pearce said in televised remarks. "If being recalled is being the price for keeping these promises, then so be it."

In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, won reelection over Republican David Williams, the state Senate president, and third-party candidate Gatewood Galbraith. A year ago, the election of Republican Rand Paul to a Senate seat from Kentucky was one of the nation's biggest tea party-inspired victories.

In Mississippi, voters chose another Republican, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Haley Barbour. Democratic nominee Johnny DuPree had sought to become the state's first African American governor of the modern era.

At the same time, Mississippi voters firmly rejected Initiative 26, which would have effectively defined birth control methods like IUDs and the morning-after pill as murder. Barbour supported the measure, as did both major-party gubernatorial candidates. Bryant was quoted as telling supporters in Tupelo this week that "Satan wins" if the amendment was defeated, describing the statewide campaign over the measure as "a battle of good and evil of biblical proportions."

But the measure split the antiabortion movement, and similar initiatives have failed in recent years, including in Colorado, where the "personhood" movement is based.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said defeat of the "dangerous and divisive measure" in one of the nation's most conservative states would allow abortion rights supporters to "breathe a sigh of relief" but that "the fight is far from over."

In another setback for newly emboldened Republican lawmakers, Maine voters repealed a law passed this year by the Republican Legislature that would have ended the tradition of same-day registration. And in Iowa, Democrats won a special election for a vacant state Senate seat to keep Republicans from gaining control of the entire government in Des Moines.

Even as strategists warned against reading too much into the results of an off-year election, the 2011 contests were enough of a mixed bag to provide talking points for partisans on both sides. Last month, Louisiana's Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal was reelected. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat who was elevated to the job when the previous governor moved to the U.S. Senate, was narrowly elected to fill out the term in the face of anti-Obama sentiment in his state.

Though the president's reelection campaign was active in Ohio's labor fight, Obama personally avoided the most closely fought contests. In Virginia, prominent Democratic officeholders stayed away when the president's bus rolled through last month.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Fox News that the "standoffish approach that Democrats are having toward this president" reflected a lack of enthusiasm that would carry over into the 2012 election.

A growing trend of punishing lawmakers for their role in passing contentious measures was the focus of several recall elections. In addition to the Arizona effort, the Michigan teachers union was attempting to unseat a Republican state senator over his leadership in passing laws designed to weaken teacher tenure.

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