When I was attending Oberlin College in the Ohio town named for it, a carload of Young Republicans drove to Columbus to hear U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield and state Republican Party Chairman Ray Bliss.
Both were impressive.
Hatfield was a former college professor who appealed to the student in us.
Bliss was the down-in-the-trenches politician who had led the party back from a 1954 debacle involving unions.
The GOP decided to put a referendum on the ballot to repeal union shops. Under such laws, employees of a company had to join the union representing its employees or not have a job.
Naturally, having 100% of a firm’s employees in the union meant a steady flow of dues to finance union officials’ salaries and union activities.
I learned about union shops nine months after I started working for the National Tea store where the empty lot now exists at the intersection of Route 14 and McHenry Avenue.
Mr. Svensen, the store manager, came to talk to me outside his office where the time cards were racked. The gentle man told me he was going to have to let me go if I didn’t join the Retail Clerks union. Basically, that was a condition of employment.
I told him no one had ever asked me to join the union. He seemed a bit surprised and inquired if the shop steward hadn’t talked to me.
I didn’t even know who the shop steward was. I was busy stocking laundry products (the first Mister Clean bottles), pet food, bagging groceries and burning cardboard.
The upshot of the conversation was that I joined the union and kept my part-time job.
Ohio Republicans decided that they were going to establish Right-To-Work laws in Ohio through a vote of the people.
Needless to say, that energized the unions.
They were so energized that they swept every statewide Republican official out of office except the Lt. Governor, whom I sensed had been in office so long that no one could defeat him. One of the losers was James A. Rhodes. He ran for governor.
Bliss led the team that turned the tables, but it took several election cycles. Republican Jim Rhodes was elected governor with the help of the Oberlin College Young Republicans in 1962.
So what was Bliss’ takeaway from the 1954 debacle?
First, don’t stir the union hornet next.
Give them a reason to protect their turf and Republicans are in trouble.
Secondly, don’t allow the money men to set public policy. After 1954, Rhodes allowed the financiers to raise cash for the party, but not to force referendums on the ballot that might hurt party chances.
Is a parallel to what happened in 1954 in Ohio about to be replayed in Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio?
Will Governor Scott Walker’s insistence that the union shop be abolished for government workers (including teachers) activate them enough to work hard for the defeat of Republican state representatives and senators in Wisconsin?
I think the answer is an undeniable “YES!!”
If so, will Republicans, Tea Party activists and other supporters of people like Walker, Indiana Govenor Mitch Daniels and Ohio Governor John Kasich be able to mount as disciplined a campaign to keep their legislators in office?
Based on what I have leaved of the lack of integration of Tea Party volunteers with regular party activists in Illinois, I frankly doubt it.
Sometimes GOP leaders do know what they are talking about.
They do know what should go in the door-to-door bags and what shouldn’t.
Is the 1954 Ohio Republican debacle foreordained in 2012?
Knowing what happened in the past could change what occurs then.
Or history could repeat itself?