Firefighter Tom Sullivan campaigns against Issue 2 outside a polling location… (Mark Duncan / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington and Columbus, Ohio — Ohioans voted Tuesday to overturn the state's new law limiting collective bargaining rights for public employees, a victory for organized labor and their Democratic allies in the key electoral battleground.
With 25% of precincts reporting, the "no" votes for Issue 2 -- votes for repealing Senate Bill 5 -- had a 63-37% advantage. The Associated Press called the race at 9:16 pm ET.
The vote marks a setback for Ohio Gov. John Kasich who, along with other newly-elected Republicans this year, sought to limit public sector workers' ability to collectively bargain. A similar effort in Wisconsin spurred a slate of recall elections of Republican state senators, and another potentially coming next year targeting Gov. Scott Walker himself.
A union-financed petition drive put the measure on the Ohio ballot this spring shortly after Kasich enacted the law. The contest over the initiative was perhaps this fall’s most expensive, and closely watched, fight.
Labor groups in particular mobilized to drive the repeal effort. We are Ohio, a union coalition, had raised more than $30 million in contributions and other assistance, drawing largely on national union organizations and also the Democratic Governors Assn.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka was in Ohio for the election, speaking to an energized crowd of union activists in Columbus on Tuesday morning and making the rounds on local and cable TV in the afternoon.
"The workers here have done a tremendous job of saying enough is enough," Trumka said. "They're saying ‘We're not going to let you take away our ladder into the middle class.'"
The union flew in dozens of workers to canvass and make phone calls to potential voters, including a contingent of activists from Los Angeles. The union says it handed out 4.1 million worksite fliers, leafleted 4,000 worksites, knocked on more than a million doors and sent out 825,000 pieces of local union mail, according to the Washington Post.
Trumka says that support for the repeal effort showed just how much Ohio leaders overreached.
"This is about more than Ohio. It's about more than about Gov. Kasich. This is about whether honest to God working people like us can change this economy to work for us so that we can make a decent living," he said to a roaring crowd.
Building a Better Ohio, the leading group in support of the law, had raised about $7.6 million and spent $6 million. The group's contributions have come from the nonprofit organization Building a Better Ohio Inc., which is not required to disclose its donors or the amounts they gave.
Also assisting in the effort to gin up support for the law was Americans for Prosperity, an Arlington, Va.-based group founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. The group spent $28,000 on phone-banking and radio ads, a paltry sum compared with the $40 million it claims to have spent helping elect Republicans in the 2010 midterm election.
Paul West and Kim Geiger contributed to this report.