Wisconsin heats up while "civility" takes a holiday on the left
Wisconsin is a great example of special interest constituency politics. I’m not talking about politics that focus on the constituents in your district or state if you’re an elected representative or senator. I’m talking about special-interest constituents who provide you money and backing when you seek election or reelection – whether from your district or not.
That’s pretty much what is going on in Wisconsin boils down too. Wisconsin’s Republican Governor, Scott Walker has proposed a number of ways to “repair” the budget. In summary, those aimed at public service unions place limits on their existing power:
It would require most public workers to pay half their pension costs – typically 5.8% of pay for state workers – and at least 12% of their health care costs. It applies to most state and local employees but does not apply to police, firefighters and state troopers, who would continue to bargain for their benefits.
Except for police, firefighters and troopers, raises would be limited to inflation unless a bigger increase was approved in a referendum. The non-law enforcement unions would lose their rights to bargain over anything but wages, would have to hold annual elections to keep their organizations intact and would lose the ability to have union dues deducted from state paychecks.
Apparently such limits are simply outrageous. Unions hold annual elections? Public workers pay more toward their pensions and health care costs? And, of course, the bargaining “rights” curtailed in everything but wages?
So that’s prompted an astroturf campaign which has involved organizations outside Wisconsin, to include the White House. The one thing public sector unions can do effectively it seems is “flash mobs”. Reports of advertisements in Illinois aimed at recruiting activists for protests in Wisconsin were common.
The Democratic National Committee also has involved themselves in the local fight.
The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America arm — the remnant of the 2008 Obama campaign — is playing an active role in organizing protests against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to strip most public employees of collective bargaining rights.
OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.
So anyone who thinks this is all “spontaneous” might want to buy a clue.
Meanwhile, all the Democratic state senators in Wisconsin have run off to Rockford, Ill to avoid having to do their jobs. You see, Republicans hold a majority, but are one short of a quorum needed to pass legislation. So without the Democrats, the Senate is unable to act on legislation. Democrats have issued a “list of demands”:
“We demand that the provisions that completely eliminate the ability of workers… to negotiate on a fair basis with their employers be removed from the budget repair bill and any other future budget,” Miller said.
He also demanded legislative oversight on changes to the state’s medical programs, which are targeted for changes in the bill. The bill would also require union members to contribute to their health care and pensions.
My guess is there’s some negotiating room there, but if I were the governor I’d tell Dems that there’ll be no talk about their demands until they act like adults and show back up in the capital ready to do their jobs. And Governor Walker has laid out the alternative fairly clearly:
Walker said the only alternative would be layoffs of 10,000 to 12,000 state and local employees.
Of course, without a quorum, that isn’t the strongest hand in the world. But what Democrats are doing sure seems like a childish tantrum in my eyes. Republicans may not have a quorum and state government may grind to a halt because of it, but I doubt that voters are going to blame members of the GOP for that.
All of this has spawned the usual misinformation as charges and counter-charges fly. Ed Schultz provides an example of a completely false statement about the controversy according to Politifact Wisconsin. Said Shultz:
Under changes being debated, state employees in Wisconsin "who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight."
Not true. Although state employees would have to pay a higher percentage for their benefits (in the 6 to 11% range) none are looking at “20 percent of their income disappear[ing] over night”.
Unions have been losing favor in the eyes of the American public for years, with a fairly sharp downturn in their popularity in 2007. Since then their favorability rating has stayed about the same, but unfavorable numbers continue to build:
Americans’ attitudes about labor unions changed only slightly over the past year, following a sharp downturn between early 2007 and early 2010. Currently, 45% say they have a favorable opinion about labor unions, while nearly as many (41%) say they have an unfavorable opinion.
In January 2007, 58% said they had a favorable opinion of unions; 31% had an unfavorable opinion.
Tantrums like this, astroturfing and the plain old uncivil behavior aren’t going to help their case. Ann Althouse has some examples of the latter. It appears that Adolph Hitler has made a comeback among the left in Wisconsin. Civility is only a requirement for those on the right, apparently. The left – well it’s the left and any insult and comparison, no matter how outrageous, is perfectly fine. Godwin’s law is in effect in Wisconsin.
I think Wisconsin is only the beginning of these sorts of spectacles and fights. Entrenched bureaucracies and unions aren’t going to give up their power easily and go quietly in the night. How they conduct themselves in this sort of fight will be important though. The point, one assumes, is to bring visibility to their arguments and persuade the public to back them. If that’s the case, I don’t think the way the Wisconsin protesters (and legislators) are prosecuting their case will be held up as a model to be emulated.
Cuts are coming – whether made willingly or forced by reality. There’s no escaping that. Gov. Walker is trying to get ahead of that curve.
Human nature says no one wants to see their ox gored, regardless of reality’s demands. But in a battle for public opinion, acting like children, calling people Nazis and importing out-of-state protesters in what is really a local fight doesn’t seem to be the best way to get the public on your side.