MADISON — A vote taking place three states and more than 500 miles from Madison could foreshadow the future for Wisconsin and its governor.
When Ohio voters head to the polls today, they have the chance to essentially veto a measure that bears a striking resemblance to Gov. Scott Walker's collective-bargaining bill, which led to the longest and most heavily attended protests in Wisconsin history.
In March, not long after Walker signed his bill into law, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, also a Republican, signed a measure that greatly reduced the collective-bargaining abilities of his state's employees.
Like here, the move was seen by critics as an overreach by the GOP, an attempt to deliver a crippling blow to organized labor in that state. Here, backlash to the measure focused on recalling state senators who supported it. But in Ohio, voters can repeal individual pieces of legislation.
Since the spring, thousands of the law's opponents have taken to the streets to collect signatures and generate support for overturning the measure. As it stands, Kasich and his bill both are lagging in public support. A Quinnipiac University poll released this week showed the repeal effort was leading by a 25-point margin.
Should the Ohio law fall, it could provide the clearest example yet of the trouble Walker will face when his recall election kicks off in earnest next week.
"These two situations are about as identical as you can get," said Mordecai Lee, UW-Milwaukee political science professor. "You can say one is about a law, the other is about a governor, but both really are about how the public at large feels about organized labor and whether they feel the Republicans are going too far."
In many ways Ohio's law went further than Wisconsin's. The Ohio law banned binding arbitration and required government workers to pay more of their health insurance costs and to their pensions.
Almost $40 million has been raised by the two sides. The overwhelming majority of that — about $30 million — went to We Are Ohio, a political action committee heavily backed by labor unions. Building a Better Ohio, a Republican-backed organization led by Kasich allies, is organized in such a way that it does not have to divulge donors. The group released its donor list last month but did not give details such as contribution amounts.
"It is a poorly kept secret: It's labor on one side and conservative groups on the other," said Catherine Turcer, director of Ohio Citizen Action's Money in Politics Project, a watchdog group that tracks spending. "And a significant amount of it is coming from out of state."
This is important in Wisconsin, because the same two sides are expected to square off here.
"If the labor forces win that fight in Ohio, especially by such a wide margin, there is no doubt it will electrify the left in Wisconsin," Lee said.