It might have been "too much too soon," a chastened Gov. John Kasich of Ohio admitted Tuesday night after his state's voters overwhelmingly rejected his attempt to break public employee unions. He certainly was right about "too much," an analysis that also applies to other examples of Republican overreach around the country that were kicked into the gutter: an antiabortion amendment in Mississippi, a voting restriction in Maine, the radical anti-immigrant agenda of a politician in Arizona.
These policies, and similar ones in other states, were passed in an arrogant frenzy by a tea party tide of Republicans elected in 2010. Many of them decided that they had a mandate to dismantle some of the basic protections and restrictions of government. They went too far, and weary voters had to drag them back toward the center.
As a result, Tuesday brought an overdue return of common sense to government policy in many states. Many voters are tired of legislation driven more by ideology than practicality, of measures that impoverish the middle class or deprive people of basic rights in order to prove some discredited economic theory or cultural belief.
That was most evident in Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly repealed a law pushed through last spring by Republicans to shred collective bargaining rights for public employees. It prohibited bargaining on health benefits for state and local workers, including teachers, police officers and firefighters, and made it much harder to collect union dues or negotiate on staffing.
Many states are bleeding because of high salaries and lavish benefits, but, as New York and Connecticut have shown, it is possible to reduce them without breaking unions. The roughshod course chosen by Ohio, as well as Wisconsin and Indiana, made the real agenda all too clear: breaking the political power of public unions. Blue-collar voters in Ohio, many of whom got to the middle class through collective bargaining, understood the game.
In Arizona, voters recoiling from anti-immigrant stridency recalled the state Senate's president, Russell Pearce, who was the main sponsor and public face of Arizona's immigration law, which imposed sweeping police-state powers to harass and expel people without papers. The law, largely blocked in federal court, has done huge damage to the state's economy and reputation, and voters in Pearce's district clearly had had enough.
Maine voters saw right through the partisanship behind Republican attempts to eliminate same-day voter registration, and reinstated it. In state after state, Republicans have tried to make it harder to vote, knowing that restrictions tend to hit lower-income and minority voters — traditional supporters of Democrats. Unfortunately, Mississippi voters were not as enlightened, approving a new requirement for identification cards at the polls.
But, even the voters in that state, one of the country's most conservative, decisively rejected an amendment to ban abortion by declaring a fertilized egg as a person. The measure also would have effectively banned some forms of contraception and even in-vitro fertilization, and 58 percent of voters said that was going too far.
It is not clear that Tuesday's votes add up to a national trend that will have an effect on 2012 or even the deadlock in Congress. But they do offer a ray of hope to any candidate who runs on pragmatic solutions, not magical realism, to create jobs and reduce the pressures of inequality on the middle class and the poor.
© 2011 New York Times News Service