Unions advance Sick-Day Act as statewide ballot measure

Next month's ballot will be free of statewide issues — but don't think voters in a state so pivotal to the 2008 election will get off so easily next year.

With the presidential contest coming, outside groups with a stake in who wins are sure to find Ohio's ballot an attractive place to help them reach their political goals.

The strategy helped elect President Bush in 2004 — when conservative voters came out in high numbers to approve the gay-marriage ban supported by one of Bush's biggest contributors — and groundwork is already being laid to adjust voter mindsets in ways beneficial to certain candidates before next year.

Though labor unions have played down the link, the sick-day initiative they're backing for a possible ballot spot in 2008 would bring out many voters who'll side with whatever Democratic candidate ends up winning the party's nomination. They'll be trying first to force the Legislature to pass it.

Dubbed the "Healthy Families Act," the mandate to require bigger employers to offer a minimum of seven sick days per year will surely resonate with the state's working class voters, most of whom lean Democrat or independent.

In an August poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, 88 percent of registered Democrats and 84 percent of independents reported being either favorable or indifferent to union endorsements of candidates, an attitude that presumably means those voters are amenable to the work-life issues that unions push.

Building on the victory of a similar issue in San Francisco last year, 14 states and two other cities are now pursuing similar measures, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families.

The issue could be particularly helpful to Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton, if she becomes the nominee, by bringing out the women's vote she is cultivating. In a state where 61 percent of women over age 16 are now the primary breadwinners in their families, female voters may be motivated to force their employers to offer them more sick time.

Republicans, though, may emerge with a family issue of their own to counter the Democrats' values talk: a gay adoption ban.

Social conservatives from Citizens for Community Values who backed the 2004 prohibition against gay marriage — an issue that caught fire in 11 states that year — have signaled that keeping same-sex couples from adopting children is the next logical step in their effort.

An Ohio proposal to ban gay adoption fizzled last year, after Republican House Speaker Jon Husted rejected it as too divisive. But the issue, with variations on the theme, is far from dead.

After bills or ballot initiatives that would have banned gay adoptions appeared in 16 states, including Ohio, in 2006, it is logical to assume that the issue has simply gone dormant in anticipation of the 2008 election.

Already this year, the Arkansas Family Council has pushed a ballot measure in that state aimed at preventing same-sex couples from adopting foster children. And a gay marriage ban in Florida, where gay adoptions are already illegal, is also on track to appear on next year's ballot.

Though there is some evidence to suggest that Ohioans are tired of moral debates — particularly after this year's endless fight over whether to restrict strip clubs. And Democrats have made a concerted effort to move the family values pendulum their way in the wake of President Bush's veto of a bill that would authorize additional spending for children's health insurance.

Still, in bellwether Ohio, trying to appeal to voters on values issues can be tricky business. The state has both a large population of evangelical Christians and a vocal and well-funded gay community.

Experts are quick to point out that most voters in presidential election years are already motivated to go to the polls to vote for their favorite candidate — but the issues that appear alongside those names get people thinking about what they stand for.

Ads for and against those issues also tend to fill the television in the weeks before the election, turning public debate in their direction.

So if an issues sways turnout by only a couple percentage points, that can make a difference.

President Bush beat his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, in 2004 by just 118,000 votes, or 2.1 percent, in Ohio. That was enough to win all 20 of the state's coveted electoral votes and put him in the White House.


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