- Associated Press - Monday, December 12, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Unionized teachers, local government officials and veterans are among public workers running for office in an effort by Ohio Democrats to take control of the state House after a successful fall campaign to repeal a collective bargaining overhaul championed by Republicans.

Without the option of a gubernatorial recall like Wisconsin’s, a 2012 takeover of the Ohio House, where Republicans hold a 19-seat advantage, is Democrats’ best next step for capitalizing on voter anger over the union-limiting law.

Taking control of the Ohio Senate, which is about two-thirds Republican and has been in GOP hands since 1985, is a long shot for Democrats. But House control would give them the ability to block bills supported by Senate Republicans and Republican Gov. John Kasich.

The union-limiting bill that’s fueling the effort was lauded by its backers as a tool for local governments to control costs, but it prompted weeks of Statehouse protests, rallies and parades drawing thousands of opponents. The measure would have affected more than 350,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other government employees. After a $30 million campaign, 60 percent of voters rejected it in November.

Now, Democrats are fielding candidates in almost all 99 Ohio House districts - even the reliably Republican ones - a rarity not seen for almost 20 years. About 20 of their candidates belong to unions.

“The GOP’s partisan agenda is out of touch, which is why their top legislative priority … was soundly rejected in Republican districts across the state,” said state Rep. Jay Goyal, co-chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Campaign.

Lawmakers need to focus on creating jobs to strengthen the middle class, Mr. Goyal said, and returning the House to Democratic control is the only way to stop what he calls the Republicans’ “anti-middle-class agenda.”

Recalling Mr. Kasich, who is less than a year into a four-year term, is not an option under the state’s constitution. Last week, Democrats tried in a legislative maneuver to insert language into a bill moving through the Ohio House that would have allowed a gubernatorial recall, but Republicans blocked it.

Ohio Republicans are trying to counter the takeover attempt by Democrats with their own slate of House candidates, including the president of a local manufacturing company, a restaurant owner, school board members, a former teacher, and a member of the NAACP and National Urban League boards.

“The House Republican Caucus has demonstrated that we can and will do what is necessary to put Ohio back on the right track, and our candidates want to be a part of our effort to continue rebuilding Ohio,” said state Rep. Matt Huffman, who chairs the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee.

Democrats’ slate includes 10 teachers and five former state lawmakers, including state Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern - a former state representative who has been among Mr. Kasich’s most outspoken critics.

Retired high school government teacher Jeff Bunck said the Republican attempt to thwart collective bargaining sparked his decision to run for a seat in the Ohio House against a GOP incumbent in suburban Toledo. The debate will still be fresh in the minds of voters next year, he said.

“It will level the playing field a whole lot even in gerrymandered districts like the one I’m running in,” said Mr. Bunck, who’s 59 and never run for office before.

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