Obama’s returning to Ohio with a new tone

President Barack Obama to return to Shaker Heights with a different outlook on Congress

Published: Monday, January 02, 2012, 5:30 PM     Updated: Monday, January 02, 2012, 10:52 PM, Cleveland.com
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President Barack Obama pitches his health care plan at Shaker Heights High School in this July 2009 file photo. The Democratic incumbent will return to the school Wednesday to talk about the economy, and it’s likely he won’t bring the same congressional salesmanship he offered the last time he visited.
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — When he came to Shaker Heights High School in July 2009, full of first-year optimism and salesmanship, President Barack Obama called on Congress to work with him on an overhaul of the nation’s health care system.

When he returns Wednesday afternoon, expect a different tone.

The Cleveland-area visit, which the White House bills as remarks on the economy, is likely to present Obama in a new, election-year narrative. Where he once sought compromise, Obama now aims to distance himself from a Congress with historically low approval ratings.

“In terms of the president’s relationship with Congress in 2012 . . . the president is no longer tied to Washington, D.C.,” a deputy press secretary told reporters for the New York Times and Washington Post during a briefing in Hawaii, where Obama was vacationing last week.

Signs of the shift became apparent before Christmas when the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut set to expire Jan. 1. House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, balked at the deal and called for a full-year extension.

With senators already on holiday recess, Obama and fellow Democrats cast the Republicans’ unwillingness to forge a short-term deal as a willingness to raise taxes. On Dec. 22, the House GOP agreed to the two-month extension, handing a political victory to the president.

Further elevating the political stakes of Wednesday’s speech is the fact Obama will deliver it hours after the Iowa caucuses, the first Republican presidential nominating contest.

Obama is scheduled to speak at 1:15 p.m. Beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, free tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the school district’s administration building on Parkland Drive.

Ohio, which holds its primary March 6, remains a state key to winning in November; the Shaker Heights visit will be Obama’s 16th to the Buckeye State since taking office in January 2009. Yet Obama’s poll numbers show he has a challenge ahead. In a Quinnipiac University survey last month, 55 percent of Ohioans disapproved of the president’s job performance.

Obama won here by four points in 2008 and saw promising signs last fall after a Democratic-backed coalition led the repeal of a labor law championed by Republican Gov. John Kasich. A week after the measure went down, Obama’s re-election campaign sent Vice President Joe Biden to Euclid to celebrate with firefighters and other unionized public employees.

But Republicans were equally encouraged by last fall’s vote on Issue 3, which delivered a strong rebuke to Obama’s health care plan and passed by a greater margin than the labor law failed. On Monday, upon hearing where Obama would speak Wednesday, those Republicans were quick to recall what he discussed the last time he visited Shaker Heights High School.

A Republican National Committee spokesman emailed reporters a link to a story about the Issue 3 vote. And Ohio GOP spokesman Christopher Maloney criticized Obama for holding “political pep rallies and swing-state speeches that don’t create jobs.”

Via email, Maloney added: “The students at Shaker Heights High School and all Ohio families deserve a president who will place their needs and opportunities for a brighter future, before the focus of his own re-election.”

Dayton, OH Welcomes Immigrants

Dayton, Ohio, Welcomes Immigrants As Policy Point

Dayton Ohio Immigrants
By DAN SEWELL   10/24/11 02:56 PM ET   AP

DAYTON, Ohio — On the same afternoon thousands of Hispanics in Alabama took the day off to protest the state’s strict new immigration law, Mexican-born Francisco Mejia was ringing up diners’ bills and handing containers piled with carnitas to drive-thru customers on the east side of Dayton.

His family’s Taqueria Mixteca is thriving on a street pockmarked with rundown buildings and vacant storefronts. It gets packed with a diverse lunchtime clientele of Hispanic laborers, white men in suits and other customers, white and black. “Business is very good,” Mejia said, smiling broadly between orders.

It’s the kind of success story that leaders in Dayton think offers hope for an entire city. It has adopted a plan not only to encourage immigrants to come and feel welcome here, but also to use them to help pull out of an economic tailspin.

Dayton officials, who adopted the “Welcome Dayton” plan unanimously Oct. 5, say they aren’t condoning illegal immigration; those who come here illicitly will continue to be subject to U.S. laws.

While states including Alabama, Georgia and Arizona, as well as some cities, have passed laws in recent years cracking down on illegal immigrants, Dayton officials say they will leave that to federal authorities and focus instead on how to attract and assimilate those who come legally.

Other cities, including nearby Columbus and Indianapolis, have programs to help immigrants get government and community help, but Dayton’s effort has a broader, and more urgent, feel.

Mayor Gary Leitzell told the city commission before the vote that immigrants bring “new ideas, new perspectives and new talent to our workforce. … To reverse the decades-long trend of economic decline in this city, we need to think globally.”

Hard-hit for years by the struggles of U.S. manufacturing, particularly in the auto industry, the recession pounded Dayton, which as the Wright Brother’s hometown calls itself “the birthplace of aviation.”

Thousands of jobs were lost with the crippling 2009 exodus to Georgia of NCR (formerly National Cash Register), one of Dayton’s signature corporations, after 125 years, and by the 2008 shutdown of a General Motors plant in suburban Moraine.

Dayton’s unemployment is nearly 11 percent, 2 percent higher than the national average, while population has fallen below 142,000, down 15 percent from 2000. Meanwhile, the city’s official foreign-born population rose 57 percent, to 5,102, from 2000 to 2010, according to census figures.

City leaders aiming to turn Dayton around started examining the immigrant population: Indian doctors in hospitals; foreign-born professors and graduate students at the region’s universities; and owners of new small businesses such as a Turkish family’s New York Pizzeria on the city’s east side and Hispanic-run car lots, repair shops and small markets. They say immigrants have revitalized some rundown housing, moving into and fixing up what had been vacant homes.

“This area has been in a terrible recession, but it would be even worse without them,” said Theo Majka, a University of Dayton sociology professor who, with his sociologist wife Linda Majka, has studied and advocated for Dayton’s immigrants. “Here we have this underutilized resource.”

Dayton officials say their plan still needs funding and volunteers to help put it in place; they hope by the end of the year. Its key tenets include increasing information and access to government, social services and housing issues; language education and help with identification cards, and grants and marketing help for immigrant entrepreneurs to help build the East Third Street section.

“We will be more diverse, we will grow, we will have more restaurants, more small businesses,” said Tom Wahlrab, the city’s human relations council director, who helped lead the plan’s development.

Besides thousands of Hispanics, there are communities in Dayton of Iraqi refugees, Vietnamese and other Asians, Africans from several countries, and Russians and Turks who, officials say, are already living here quietly and industriously.

“Immigrants are hard workers with a propensity to create jobs, and this will invigorate the economy,” said Festus Nyiwo, an attorney in his home country of Nigeria who has been a small-business entrepreneur since coming to Dayton about eight years ago.

Around the country, the bad economy has helped inspire new laws targeting illegal immigrants, seen as taking scarce jobs and overburdening schools, police and services.

In Alabama, a new law allows police to detain indefinitely those suspected of being in the country illegally and requires schools to check new students’ status; some farms and businesses say they’re losing workers because of it. Georgia and Arizona also added tough restrictions.

The immigration debate continues in Hazleton, Pa., where officials five years ago passed a law aimed at driving out illegal immigrants they blamed for drugs, violent crime and overwhelming schools and hospitals. The measure has since been tied up in court challenges.

Dorothy Balser, manager of refugee resettlement services for Catholic Social Services, said that finding jobs can be a struggle, but that refugees have generally been able to fit into the Dayton community. She thinks the Welcome Dayton plan will have a “natural positive effect” on those already here without causing a significant rise in numbers immediately.

Dayton’s schools say they’re helping 525 students learn English, up from 420 less than two years ago. About half are native Spanish-speakers; the rest are a mix of Turkish, Arabic, Swahili and more. They’re ready to accept more.

“We already are currently experiencing many students from many nationalities living in Dayton. That is a reality,” said Jill Moberly, a spokeswoman for Dayton Public Schools.

Opponents fear it will encourage illegal immigration and give preferences to immigrants.

“If Dayton wants to help build its economy by letting people know that legal immigrants are welcome, that’s their prerogative,” said Steve Salvi, founder of Ohio Jobs & Justice PAC, an advocacy group that focuses on illegal immigration. “But when they accept a plan that clearly has the purpose of including those (illegal) people, that’s a problem for everyone.”

Roy Barber, who owns Roy’s Lock Shop on East Third Street, says he’s been in business for 30 years and doesn’t like the city’s plan.

“Nobody ever talked to me,” he said. “Why not help us?”

Barber said most of the neighborhood’s Hispanic immigrants work hard and cause no problems. But he predicts Welcome Dayton will bring more illegal immigrants.

“You see people out on the street and you know they’re illegal,” he said.

Rich Lober, 50, a lifelong Dayton resident, said Mexican and other immigrants have helped East Third.

“I like the idea of rejuvenating this neighborhood,” Lober said. But he said Dayton should look to draw back former residents.

“I’d like to see a `Welcome Back.’ They should include American citizens, too,” Lober said.

Black resident David Dewberry told city officials it’s important not to neglect predominantly black neighborhoods, where residents might wonder where their welcome plan is.

“Rightfully so, there are some lifelong residents who are disenchanted,” he said.

At Taqueria Mixteca, Mejia’s mother and restaurant manager, Marta Guzman, believes Welcome Dayton will help relieve stereotypes.

“I know there are some (immigrants) who are causing crime and problems,” said Guzman, who has lived in the United States for three decades, legalized through the 1986 amnesty program.

“I have struggled a lot in this country, working two jobs, raising three children” as a single mother, she said. “Most of us are here to work hard and to live the American dream.”

Will the new policy bring more immigrants? Mejia smiled again.

“We’re already hearing that there are some Mexicans who are planning to come here from Alabama,” he said.

Following Wisconsin Elections, Gov. Kasich Now Wants Compromise

Gov. John Kasich asks union leaders to compromise on Senate Bill 5; union group says repeal it, then we’ll talk

Published: Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 7:00 PM     Updated: Thursday, August 18, 2011, 8:03 AM

Reginald Fields, The Plain Dealer By Reginald Fields, The Plain Dealer 
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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich backtracked on Senate Bill 5 on Wednesday, asking union leaders to negotiate a compromise on the collective bargaining law he championed and end efforts to repeal it.

While the Republican leader made clear he wants a voter referendum on SB5 to go away, Kasich did not specifically outline provisions of the multi-faceted law that he is willing to lose.

Kasich held a news conference to publicly ask union leaders opposed to SB5 to meet with him and other Republican leaders at 10 a.m. Friday at his office building. He also put his request in writing, sending a letter to We Are Ohio, the anti-SB5 group.

“We are now standing here saying to people, ‘bring your grievances to us. We will look at them,'” said Kasich, who was joined at the news conference by fellow Republicans, House Speaker William G. Batchelder and Senate President Tom Niehaus. “Why would people say ‘I’m not going to talk?’

“It doesn’t mean that because you talk you reach agreement,” he said. “Just because you talk doesn’t mean you work it all out. But I think the public would like us to talk. So we’ll see where this all goes.”

The governor didn’t have to wait long to get his answer. We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas was waiting outside Kasich’s Statehouse office for the news conference to end. Her message to reporters was simple: It’s too late for talking.

She noted that a record 1.3 million signatures were collected to get the repeal effort on the Nov. 8 ballot, and she questioned Kasich’s claim that voters are clamoring for a compromise. She called Kasich’s invitation to meet a publicity stunt to save political face over a law that polling suggests will be overturned by a wide margin.

“These politicians who passed Senate Bill 5 have the ability to come back and repeal the law,” she said. “And that is what they should do, repeal the entire law. Or they can join us and vote no in November on Issue 2.”

Fazekas said she could not say whether individual union leaders would accept the governor’s invitation and show up on Friday. But she said the official position of We Are Ohio is that Republicans, who control the legislature, should repeal the bill — and then union leaders would be willing to talk.

“That would be a starting point for us,” she said.

Cleveland police union president Stephen Loomis called Kasich’s offer “hypocritical.”

“We asked for them to sit down to have these discussions while the bill was still going through the legislature and were summarily dismissed by Gov. Kasich and the House and Senate leadership,” Loomis said. “Repeal the bill in its entirety and we’d be happy to sit down with you. There is absolutely no trust. Once bitten, twice shy. Talk is cheap.”

The hard-charging Kasich, who prides himself on never wilting to outside pressures, especially from media, said he yielded this time to editorials in The Columbus Dispatch and The Plain Dealer that called for the two sides to sit down and talk.

But many have wondered why the governor, who signed SB5 on March 31, took so long to publicly call for a compromise.

“I am utterly perplexed as to why the Republicans have waited this long to come to the table,” said state Sen. Nina Turner, a Cleveland Democrat. “After months of playing politics with peoples’ paychecks, their new-found spirit of compromise seems a bit late.”

Kasich says his timing has nothing to do with efforts to repeal the law, or with a recent Quinnipiac poll that shows the measure being defeated by a double-digit margin.

“This is not an effort that is being put forward because we fear we’re going to lose,” Kasich said.

The Quinnipiac poll, released in late July, showed voters favoring a repeal of SB5, 56-to-32-percent — a 24 point margin.

“He must’ve gotten the latest poll results,” said Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern. “It’s always good to have converts to the movement.”

The same poll, however, showed voters strongly support key aspects of the law, including requirements that public workers pay at least 15 percent of health insurance premiums and contribute at least 10 percent of their wages toward their pensions.

Kasich says that his staff and other Republican leaders had discussions earlier this summer with union leaders — though he would not say who — and says there was progress being made, and “then all of a sudden those people were yanked away.”

Other media reports have made similar claims with anonymous sourcing. But Fazekas said no such discussions ever occurred between the two sides in any official capacity. And no union leader has come forward to admit participating in any such meetings.

“We have a leadership structure in place with We Are Ohio,” she said. “Our campaign manager was never contacted by anyone from the governor’s office about a negotiation or a compromise.”

Batchelder, the GOP House speaker, is concerned that a volatile campaign this fall may be a setback for Ohio, which he said is showing signs of making economic improvements.

“I’m very concerned about the potential possibilities of an issue like this that’s on the ballot when people are very, very angry on each side,” he said. “I think it is very important because of what we have to do here in the state of Ohio to continue the forward motion that we have had.”

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine issued a statement late Wednesday urging labor leaders to put aside “political differences” and heed Kasich’s call to compromise.

SB5 was a highly controversial bill that drew the most boisterous and intense rallies to the Statehouse earlier this year that anyone could recall. One rally attracted more than 8,000 people with signs and bullhorns who rallied on the Statehouse lawn. At one point, the Statehouse doors were locked to keep opponents out. Security was more than tripled. The events drew national media attention.

Senate Bill 5 sharply restricts collective bargaining, ends binding arbitration and bans worker strikes for all state and local public employees.

Kasich has said tools in the law will help local governments rein in the costs for salaries and benefits of their workers, paid for by taxpaying private sector workers.

If it chooses to, We Are Ohio has until Aug. 29 to pull its referendum off the ballot. Kasich said if his offer to compromise is rebuffed, he is prepared to fight on toward November.

“Let’s see where all this goes. Maybe we get somewhere, maybe we won’t,” Kasich said. “If we don’t get anywhere, see you in November.”

I Like A Kick of Firearms in My Mixed Drinks

On June 30, 2011, Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law “a bill that allows gun owners in the state to carry concealed weapons into bars and other places where alcohol is served.”  The effects of alcohol on decision making was acknowledged, however, which is why the new law “prohibits gun owners from consuming alcohol or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they carry their weapons into bars.”  Phew, I’m glad they implemented an honor system, because we all know that everyone is always honest especially when it comes to whether or not they’re concealing weapons and how much we’ve had to drink!

But wait, there’s more: “The new laws allow residents to carry concealed handguns into licensed establishments in the state, including shopping malls and sporting venues.  The new law also allows a person with a concealed carry license to transport a loaded handgun in a motor vehicle without securing it in a holster, case, bag or box — and allows them to remove a handgun from a secure location.”