COLUMBUS — The successful campaign to repeal Ohio’s collective bargaining law last fall has drawn teachers and other public workers into Democratic primary races across the state as the party tries to regain seats in the Republican-dominated Legislature that passed the measure.
At least one GOP candidate also is using his opposition to the union-limiting bill to distinguish himself in a three-way contest that includes an incumbent state representative who voted for the legislation.
The measure would have affected more than 350,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other government employees. After an almost $41 million campaign, 62 percent of voters rejected it in November.
The state’s March 6 primary features 14 Democratic and 18 Republican matchups for the Ohio House. The GOP has three races for the Ohio Senate, while Democrats have no primary contests.
The collective bargaining overhaul is giving Republican Eric Spicer of Beavercreek a chance to present himself as a “nonpolitician” looking to avoid partisan fights.
Spicer is a commander with the Greene County Sheriff’s Department who has been in law enforcement for 22 years. Had he been in the House, he said, he would have voted against the legislation because it eliminated binding arbitration.
While his opposition to the bill wasn’t his main motivation for getting into the race, Spicer said, “It’s definitely an example of why good people need to step forward.”
“Let’s get the people who are driven by career politics and by money and trying to profit as much as they can, out of it, and get people up there who actually know these issues from the inside out,” he said.
Spicer is challenging Greene County Commissioner Rick Perales, and incumbent state Rep. Jarrod Martin in the southwest Ohio district.
Martin is one of six incumbent Republican representatives facing primary opponents, but he is the only seat holder without the support of the House GOP caucus.
Martin was arrested in July in Jackson County on a drunken-driving charge that was dismissed. Martin pleaded guilty to a traffic violation for failing to keep a trailer he was hauling in a marked lane and was fined $150 plus court costs.
House Speaker William Batchelder has told Martin it would be in the best interest of his family and the House Republican caucus if he would step down.
Democratic candidate Donna O’Connor stood on the steps of the Ohio Capitol with other demonstrators last spring to oppose collective bargaining restrictions.
The Dublin teacher said she soon realized she wanted to represent the voices of her fellow public workers inside the Statehouse. She’s seeking a House seat in the Columbus suburbs for the first time.
“We need educators,” she said. “We need people inside the Statehouse making sound decisions as far as public education and workers’ rights and women’s rights.”
O’Connor’s three-way race includes businessman David Robinson, who narrowly lost a legislative bid in 2010, and David Donofrio, a former Ohio Legislative Service Commission fellow and deputy clerk of courts in Franklin County.
The winner would face state Rep. Mike Duffey, a Republican from Worthington who voted for the collective bargaining bill.
Besides Robinson, other familiar faces in next month’s primary include one Democratic state legislator who is looking to make a return.
Former state Rep. Terry Tranter left the Ohio House 20 years ago. He is challenging incumbent Rep. Denise Driehaus in a newly redrawn Cincinnati-area district to which she moved in order to keep her seat.
The state redraws district boundaries every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified in the U.S. Census.
Driehaus also faces Madisonville Democrat Luke Brockmeier, who is making his first run for public office.
Brockmeier has the backing of Courage PAC, the political action committee headed by former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat. The endorsement made note of the fact Brockmeier is the only abortion-rights proponent in the primary. Tranter, meanwhile, garnered the Ohio Right to Life endorsement in the contest.
Driehaus is one of six incumbent House Democrats who face primary challengers, including Minority Leader Armond Budish of Beachwood.
Cincinnati Tea Party founder Mike Wilson is hoping to again challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Connie Pillich. Their match-up in 2010 triggered automatic recounts. Pillich, a Cincinnati lawyer, edged out Wilson by just over 600 votes.
Wilson first must beat Republican Lonnie Bowling Jr. in the Hamilton County primary.
So far, the GOP outpaced their Democratic rivals in campaign cash at the start of the 2012 election cycle.
In their most recent campaign filings, legislative Republicans reported raising nearly $4.2 million. That’s 17 times the cash of their Democratic rivals.
House Republicans raised $2.7 million and have $4.1 million on hand to spend. Senate Republicans raised $1.5 million and have $3.5 million on hand.
House Democrats raised a fraction of that. They reported collecting about $417,000 in donations, with $411,000 on hand. Senate Democrats raised even less — about $35,000 — and have less than $39,000 in the bank.