ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now, to national political correspondent Don Gonyea and the story of three big Midwestern states: Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. All three elected new Republican governors last year. Don is in Rochester, Michigan, where there's a GOP presidential debate later.
But, Don, let's start with Ohio, where Republican Governor John Kasich suffered a big setback yesterday when the bill that he signed limiting public workers' ability to negotiate wages and benefits was rejected in a referendum. What happened in Ohio?
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This was really a centerpiece of the Republican agenda in Ohio this year, and it really stirred things up in terms of getting labor energized and mobilized. And I think the lesson is that these swing states can swing back and forth very quickly. Voters in Ohio went with President Obama in '08, voting for change. They voted for change again in 2010 with John Kasich. But apparently, what they got from the Republican legislature was a bit too much if we look at yesterday's vote. The AFL-CIO in Ohio and nationally is proclaiming this as a big victory, and the laborer organization's national leader, Richard Trumka, said Republicans needs to take a lesson from this. Give a listen.
RICHARD TRUMKA: They have problems in the general election if they don't have a jobs program that they've advocated and tried to fix the economy. If all they can do is point to the fight they had with the workers in that state, then I think they go down.
GONYEA: And again, by going down, he's saying if Republicans don't kind of temper their actions in the states where they control legislatures, control the governorships, that there will be a reckoning in 2012.
SIEGEL: That's what Mr. Trumka would make of Ohio this year, but the Ohio battle follows an earlier recall attempt against some Republican state senators in Wisconsin, who had also back to their new Republican governor's bid to weaken public sector unions, and that drive was not so successful.
GONYEA: That's right. That was earlier in the year, but there were six recalls against Republicans in Wisconsin. Two were successful, but they needed three for Democrats to take over the Wisconsin Senate. So they could spin it and say there was success and a message sent in Wisconsin, but nothing like the success they saw in Ohio yesterday. Again, different situation, district by district in Wisconsin, big statewide initiative with a huge mobilization across the entire state of Ohio.
SIEGEL: Don, you're in Michigan right now, and the economy is the focus of the presidential debate there tonight. Are we seeing the same kind of increased activity by labor unions in Michigan?
GONYEA: There have certainly been budget battles here. But the governor here, again, newly elected Rick Snyder, a year in office almost, has not quite gone after the unions in the same way. He's tried to work with them. He has not, for example, pushed to make Michigan a right to work state. That would likely be a losing proposition here anyway. But again, he says there are lessons to take from Ohio yesterday and from the bitterness we've seen in Wisconsin over the past year.
GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER: Well, it's about finding common ground. Before people get into divisiveness, conflict, let's find out are there ways we can work together and have that dialogue, because I always view before you start shooting on someone, you should try to work with someone. I haven't seen a whole lot of success coming out of divisive battles, whether it be in a state or in Washington.
GONYEA: And I have to say, though, that comment should not lead us to believe that it's been all sweetness and light here in Michigan. There have been very, very bruising battles. But again, it's been on a different level than what we've seen in the neighboring states.
SIEGEL: OK, Don. Thanks a lot.
GONYEA: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Don Gonyea, speaking to us from Rochester, Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.