Protesters Fire Up Issue 2 Rally

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Wide gaps in funding and polling might suggest otherwise, but there is still a fight to be had over Issue 2.

Or so it seemed outside the historic Spread Eagle Tavern last night, where about 20 protesters opposing Issue 2 and Senate Bill 5 seemed to energize a crowd of more than 200 and the event’s featured speaker, Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich spoke from a small lectern outside the tavern with a few haystacks in front of him and snow fences enclosing a small area for the Issue 2 supporters. Protesters stood about 60 feet away from the governor, free to heckle, chide, insult or refute Kasich at every turn.

What resulted was a campaign stop unlike any the Republican Kasich has had since he’s hit the road to defend Senate Bill 5, which limits collective bargaining for public employees. Voters will accept or reject the bill through Issue 2 next week. GOP supporters of Issue 2 appear to have been outraised and outspent by millions of dollars and trail by 25 points in the latest public polling.

“Now, there’s going to be some people upset … but that’s OK. I went to college in the ’70s,” Kasich said, referring to his overall agenda and the protesters’ reaction to it. His supporters laughed and applauded.

“This is what I’m used to. This is what it’s all about in America.”

The protesters called Kasich everything from a “criminal,” to a “traitor,” to an “idiot,” the last a reference to comments Kasich made earlier this year about a Columbus police officer who had given him a traffic ticket years ago. Issue 2 opponents, including a few school-age children, wore neon green “No on 2” shirts.

“What bothers me the most about John Kasich is the ads he ran … against Ted Strickland that blamed him for the 400,000 jobs lost,” said Bob Comer, who said he had driven 45 minutes from Carroll County. Comer engaged in a heated discussion with an Issue 2 supporter after Kasich’s speech.

“But all these companies he says he was able to keep, he gave them massive tax incentives,” Comer said.

At a Kasich event, protesters almost always are either on the side of the road, dozens of yards from the venue, or at the very least are not allowed inside.

But at the Spread Eagle — where former U.S. presidents, vice presidents and presidential hopefuls Abraham Lincoln, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney and John McCain are said to have visited — the proximity of Kasich’s detractors was like smelling salts for his audience.

His supporters, compelled to drown out the Issue 2 opponents, cheered loudly when he said the state’s budget is balanced. They waved signs and hollered when he cited familiar statistics about jobs created in Ohio since he’s been governor — more than 28,000 as of last month.

Kasich has given talks this campaign season in which he’s joked to audiences, “Folks, it’s OK to applaud,” after he makes a particular point.

Last night, though Kasich touched on many of the same points he’s stressed throughout the campaign, he had a little extra pizzazz delivering his talking points or defending Issue 2. During the Issue 2 portion of his speech, he turned his attention toward the last-in, first-out layoff policy for teachers that Senate Bill 5 would nullify.

“Whoever created the notion that you are the best teacher and you were the last one hired, that you have to be the first one fired — how do we even create a policy like that?” Kasich asked with the facial and body contortions to suggest sincere puzzlement.

A protester yelled back: “Union rules!”

Kasich finished his evening in Ravenna, with a speech to about 400 people at a tea party-affiliated event.

Meanwhile, yesterday in Columbus, the protest movement Occupy Columbus brought musicians, teachers and union members to the west side of the Statehouse to speak out about Issue 2.

Justin Poulin attended the event and said Kasich should not have focused on Issue 2 for so long.

“(Issue 2) is an awfully big waste of time,” Poulin said. “There are a lot more important issues the state could be pursuing besides union-busting.”

Tristan Navera, a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau, contributed to this story.