Last night, the Columbus Dispatch confirmed just about every aspect of our own coverage of the attempt of “Building a Better Ohio” to surrender and attempt to reach a deal on a version SB 5 could live with.  The only aspect of the coverage it continues to refuse to recognize, of course, is former Dispatch COO/Associate Publisher Mike Curtin’s role in attempt these talks.

Here’s what the Dispatch has finally confirmed:

Sources said that in June, Ohio Education Association vice president William Leibensperger and AFL-CIO president Tim Burga met at least twice with former Republican Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson and Chan Cochran, a confidant of Gov. John Kasich’s.

Which is what we reported originally on Thursday.

The meetings were facilitated by Curt Steiner, a political consultant and former chief of staff for both Gov. George V. Voinovich and Davidson, and Michael Billirakis, a former president of the statewide teachers union.

“I just saw an opportunity to hit the reset button,” Steiner said, declining to confirm the meeting’s participants.

We originally reported on Steiner’s role on Wednesday.  Note, the story only says that they were “facilitated” by Steiner and Billirakis, who, I admit, I had not been told was informed.  But it does not address what we reported on Wednesday, which was the main push for these talks was coming from Mike Curtin.  We stand by our story because our sources continue to maintain this, and neither the Dispatch, nor any other outlet has actually said otherwise.

And there’s this major point, too:

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said Kasich would be interested in seeking a deal and that “the people at the table had the confidence of the administration.”

But Nichols also said Kasich did not initiate the June discussions.

In other words, the Dispatch’s newsroom on Friday confirmed what we wrote on Sunday: that the Dispatch’s editorial board was lying in claiming that Governor Kasich had made an offer to settle on SB 5 with labor.

I don’t need to talk to those people.”—Governor Kasich on 700 WLW when asked by conservative radio talk show host Willie Cunningham why he refused to meet with labor over SB 5.

If these talks did reflect the views of the Building a Better Ohio campaign, then according to the Dispatch, here’s what they have considered expendable provisions of SB 5 (i.e. “unnecessary ‘reforms.’”)

  1. Getting rid of binding arbitration entirely and instead modifying binding arbitration;
  2. The return of all non-public safety employees to have the right to strike;
  3. The ban on “fair share” contributions would be lifted;
  4. Republicans also might have been willing to hedge on a provision of Senate Bill 5 that outlaws seniority as a determining factor for layoffs’;
  5. Other economic issues such as merit pay and non-economic factors such as the education reforms included in the bill were on the table as well.

In other words, this supposed deal included what Governor Kasich had called all the way back in December 2010 the “must haves” of collective bargaining reform.  The Dispatch, amazingly (or not), never gets Kasich or his spokesman Rob Nichols to specifically state whether they had actually signed off on the framework of such a deal!  A deal that would be DOA among the House Republicans who added many of these provisions (such as the “fair share” ban) at the insistence of Americans for Prosperity.

And what was the leverage being used against these two labor leaders to encourage them to do a deal?

Steiner and Billirakis both forecast a bruising fall campaign that might not end after the referendum, predicting a Republican attempt to re-institute Senate Bill 5’s provisions piecemeal in future legislation even if Ohio voters defeat it in November.

“It makes sense that we try to negotiate and put something in place now because, if the referendum is successful, I assume there are going to be attempts to start passing parts of it piecemeal, and this could go on forever,” said Sen. Kevin Bacon, R-Minerva Park, who was closely involved in the passage of Senate Bill 5.

The threat was that the GOP legislature might attempt to repass SB 5 piecemeal.  A threat that would still exist whether labor made a deal or not.  The participants from Building a Better Ohio honestly couldn’t credibly tell labor that if they made this deal the GOP legislature wouldn’t then try to move the ball back towards SB 5 in future legislation anyways.

So what would labor have gained from the deal except a bruising political fight?  Nothing.  They would have created a political precedent that the GOP can pass on a strict party-line vote horrible anti-union legislation while shutting them out of the process over bipartisan opposition, and then ultimately cave and accept some provisions with nothing more than a non-binding promise that the same Republican legislators won’t try to pass the bill again in the future if it’s repealed.

It’s nonsense.  There’s no real binding promise from the Republican side in these talks.  And if a majority of Ohioans rise up and strike this bill down only to have the GOP legislature turn around and attempt to repass portions of it again, then there won’t be a GOP legislature anymore.

I’m sorry, but despite how popular the GOP might think some provisions of this bill may be, they got to know that the public is not going to like hearing the legislature retackling an issue they just repealed.  It’s a bluff, whether the GOP knows it or not, it is.

But note when this all took place … back in June.  That means before the “We Are Ohio” campaign had even filed the signatures, there were Republican political consultants, fearful that SB 5 and a vote to repeal it might spell doom for the Republicans come 2012, already trying to negotiate their way out what Tom Niehaus, Kasich, and Batchelder all called the most important item on their legislative agenda before the budget.

I’ll admit I’m stunned just how much Building a Better Ohio supposedly was willing to gut SB 5, but they would have had to rely on Democratic support to make such a deal law because there’s no way this current Republican bunch in the General Assembly would pass this deal on their own.

It tells you how absolutely phony the supporters of SB 5 claims are that these provisions are all necessary.  Jo Ann Davidson is officially with the Building a Better Ohio campaign.  And yet, Joe Vardon of the Dispatch reported a month after these talks happened how Building a Better Ohio was “confident” that Ohioans would not repeal SB 5.  Then a week to the day of that story, the Dispatch’s editorial board mentions attempts to reach a deal on SB 5. 

And yet, here we are a week later, and the Dispatch refuses to acknowledge that which every other person who has read this has realized:  there is absolutely little confidence among SB 5 supporters that they can avoid its repeal.  The only thing they can say in response is to threat labor that the GOP won’t learn its lesson and will ignore the will of the voters.

Good luck with that, fellas.

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