Pomp, protests to mix on day of Ohio gov's speech

AP News
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Posted: Mar 08, 2011 3:21 AM
Pomp, protests to mix on day of Ohio gov's speech

Crowds of protesters and dozens of dignitaries planned to comingle at the Statehouse on Tuesday as Gov. John Kasich delivered his first State of the State address amid a collective bargaining dispute.

It's the first time in recent memory that an Ohio governor's State of the State speech has been targeted by accompanying protests.

Kasich, a Republican elected in November, has supported a host of bold ideas for fixing the state's economy _ including restricting union bargaining rights for 350,000 police officers, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other public sector workers.

Democrats and labor groups scheduled a rally to begin 30 minutes before Kasich's noon speech, with loud music and chanting planned. Thousands of union laborers, teachers, firefighters and police officers were expected Tuesday, in the fourth week of protests of a bill limiting collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. The bill is up in House committee later Tuesday.

State lawmakers, justices, statewide officials and Kasich's Cabinet were to be in attendance for his speech, to be held in the Ohio House chamber.

Tea party groups that planned to be on hand to support Kasich said the protests are to be expected when the status quo is challenged.

A spokesman for FreedomWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that mobilizes volunteer activists to fight for less government and lower taxes, said taxpayer rights groups don't expect to have a show of numbers that the unions do _ because, with victories by their allies last November, they don't need to.

"When you are the powerless you take to the street, that's what you do," FreedomWorks vice president of communications Adam Brandon said. "I'm expecting thousands and thousands and thousands of union supporters to be pouring in from across the state. So if you're judging our presence by numbers, that's not even what we're going for. We're there to thank the senators for being courageous."

The Ohio Senate passed the collective bargaining bill by a 17-16 vote last week. Its first hearing in the Ohio House was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Kasich pledged not to incite union tensions in his speech. He said that he's not anti-union but that collective bargaining restrictions are necessary to his overall goal of reining in government spending and getting Ohio's stumbling economy back on track.

In a fundraising letter sent Monday evening on behalf of the Ohio Democratic Party, House Democratic Leader Armond Budish, of Beachwood, urged people to sign an online petition against the bill and consider donating $5 to the cause.

"We need to let House Republicans know that Ohioans will not stand idly by as they destroy our state," he wrote to supporters.

Protests grew over the past several weeks to a high of 8,500 people on the day a Senate committee had been scheduled to vote on the collective bargaining bill. Some estimates for Tuesday's expected crowd were as high as 25,000.

A similar bill in Wisconsin has drawn sometimes 70,000 people to the state capital in protest.

In 1991, then-Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, a Cleveland Republican, prompted protests by arts groups, preservationists and schools at the introduction of his trimmed-back state budget. But that was a week after his State of the State speech had been delivered.