Ohio groups hit streets in pre-election weekend

Activists on both side of Issue 2 made the last push during the pre-election weekend. / WNWO archive

Jeanne McGinnis and Leo Almeida walked house-to-house Sunday along the brick roads of Columbus' German Village neighborhood, knocking on doors and reminding voters to head to the ballots on Tuesday.

McGinnis and Almeida were among the volunteers, reaching out to voters on behalf of a union- and Democrat-backed coalition trying to kill Ohio's new union law.

"There were people who died to create unions, and people have been trying to bust them ever since," McGinnis, 58, a retired telecommunications worker, said. "The middle class is suffering and becoming nonexistent. I have three kids, I'm beginning to have grandkids, and I'm worried for them."

Just miles from the International Association of Fire Fighters union hall where canvassers gathered before going door to door, volunteers for a business- and Republican-backed coalition fighting to preserve the law were busy calling voters.

Volunteer Julie Klusty said she was tired of what she called the "misseducation" of voters by groups opposed to the collective bargaining law. She said the law will save the state money.

"I think the unions are out of control," she said. "There is union thuggery going on. They're pushing people around, and people don't even know they're being pushed."

Signed by Gov. John Kasich in March, the law would limit the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police and other state public workers. Voters will decide its fate by casting a ballot on state Issue 2. A "yes" vote will preserve the law; a "no" vote will repeal it.

The law outlaws strikes by state workers, institutes a merit pay system, requires workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health care premiums and 10 percent of their wages toward their pensions, eliminates seniority as the only factor in determining who gets laid off and prohibits bargaining on issues such as grievances, promotions and minimum staffing rules.

McGinnis and Almeida operated Sunday out of one of 54 canvassing locations statewide. Spokesman Yuri Beckelman said each location launched three or four canvasses a day over the weekend.

Almeida, 24, who was born in Brazil and moved to the United States as a child, said he felt inspired by the election process in general. He became a U.S. citizen two years ago.

"Once I turned 18, I wanted to vote, but I couldn't so I encouraged my friends to instead," said Almeida, who works as an administrative aide in the office of Democratic Senate Majority Leader Capri Cafaro.

He said he hasn't missed voting in an election since becoming a citizen.

On a cell phone provided by the GOP-backed coalition, Klusty said, "I'm calling to encourage you to vote 'yes' on Issues 2 and 3."

Klusty, 49, was at the call center with her husband Bob, both of whom have been volunteering since the center opened in early October. State Issue 3, which the coalition also supports, would forbid any law from requiring Ohioans to purchase health insurance or participate in a health care system.

The Klustys have been working at one of 17 statewide calling centers, from which the coalition also launched canvassers to knock on doors and pass out campaign literature.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine said the call centers have been averaging 100 calls more per day than they did during the 2010 general election " something he said was fantastic for an off-year election.

DeWine on Saturday took part in canvassing in Beavercreek, knocking on the 100,000th door of the campaign.

"I ran into folks still yet undecided, both in person and by phone," DeWine said. "Those are the folks we're trying to target."

Down the hall from Klusty, Ginny Reagan, 76, said she had not been having a good day making calls.

"Sometimes when we just start to speak, they hang up on us" she said. "Today most have been hanging up or just say, 'No, no way.'"

Reagan, who said she's worked in local government jobs and currently is employed as a real estate appraiser, volunteered at the call center almost every day last week. "It's very important to do your civic duty," she said.

As a former government worker and elected official, she said she knew how important it was that the state have money to pay its bills. She said voters need to know that the union law will make sure the money is there.

We Are Ohio reported receiving $19 million from July through mid-October to fight the law, with another $4.6 million in donated services. The total approaches what was spent by Kasich in his gubernatorial bid.

The business- and GOP-backed Building a Better Ohio has raised significantly less in its fight to preserve the law " $7.6 million in the same period. The group isn't required to report its donations because of its corporate structure, but voluntarily did so in late October.

If the law is defeated, Ohioans could still see elements of it pop up in legislation as early as next year. Republican House Speaker William Batchelder said last week he and other top Republicans know through polling which elements of the law voters agree on.