We Are Ohio appears ready to recycle the same rhetoric it used last year against public employee union reform in service of the Voters First Ohio redistricting campaign. Despite collecting more than 95 percent of its $42 million in contributions from labor unions in 2011 — over $20 million of that from outside Ohio — We Are Ohio described itself as “citizen-driven” and portrayed taxpayers and cost-conscious elected officials as villains.
Last year’s first We Are Ohio TV spot featured footage of a house engulfed in flames, with Cincinnati firefighter Doug Stern warning against the grave consequences of reduced union power. While left-leaning PolitiFact Ohio granted a “Mostly True” rating to Stern’s statement, “Issue 2 makes it illegal for us to negotiate for enough firefighters to do the job,” The Columbus Dispatch was more circumspect.
“This is the first ad of the Issue 2 collective-bargaining fight and it suffers from a problem that many arguments on both sides of this debate have in that they deal largely in the world of the hypothetical,” wrote Jim Siegel. We Are Ohio based its entire 2011 campaign on hypothetical worst-case scenarios, framing public employee unions as a vital firewall between Ohio taxpayers, the officials Ohio citizens elect, and the public employees paid to serve Ohio’s citizenry.
The second We Are Ohio TV ad attacked Republican legislators for exploiting a “loophole” to shield themselves from the union reform bill’s effects. Since the law related purely to public employee unions and elected officials have always been exempt from unionizing, this lie rated a “Mostly False” from PolitiFact Ohio.
Still another We Are Ohio commercial warned, “Senate Bill 5 makes it harder for nurses to give the patients the quality care that they need,” accompanied by footage of a nurse running down an empty hospital hallway. This reinforcement of We Are Ohio’s message that public employers were eager to slash staffing — combined with the fact that very few Ohio nurses are public employees — earned the unions another PolitiFact Ohio “Mostly False” rating.
In the low point of a campaign without many peaks, We Are Ohio ran a radio spot in urban areas warning that public employee union reform would “take us back to the days of Jim Crow.”
Firefighter Doug Stern, who remains a spokesman for the unions’ now-permanent We Are Ohio campaign arm, prompted a correction in The Columbus Dispatch after the Dispatch printed a lie Stern told frequently during the We Are Ohio “People’s Bus Tour.” Stern claimed Cincinnati firefighters were required to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, when the actual figure was 5 percent.
Stern was listed as the author of an email sent to the We Are Ohio mailing list last Friday. “The Voters First petition is a simple concept,” wrote Stern. “It takes the redistricting process out of political backrooms, and puts it in front of a citizens’ commission made up of the people who matter the most: everyday Ohioans like you and me.”
“Reasonable, fair, and competitive districts would be created, removing the inherent conflict of interest in politicians drawing the lines and picking their voters,” adds the We Are Ohio mailer. The message also hearkens back to the oft-debunked but constantly repeated We Are Ohio line against public employee union reform, saying “you fought back when out-of-touch Columbus politicians ignored the will of the people and rammed through Senate Bill 5 — the unsafe, unfair law that hurt us all.”
Perhaps the most damning sentence in the June 22, 2012 email: “Voters First, led by the League of Women Voters of Ohio and other good government groups, is a non-partisan, citizen-driven, grassroots movement just like We Are Ohio.” Media Trackers has proven, using publicly available Secretary of State records, that We Are Ohio is a union front group.
With the unions moving the We Are Ohio machine behind Voters First and the Ohio Education Association even assessing teachers an extra $22 for the union campaign to take over redistricting, the Dayton Daily News reported Voters First is on track to submit the necessary 386,000 voter signatures by July 4.