Wisconsin Throws a Temper Tantrum

For one day, it would seem that Illinois is not the most screwed-up state in the Great Lakes region (the day’s not over yet, though):



(picture from Ann Althouse)

There’s also people waving Egyptian flags and comparing newly elected Governor Scott Walker to Hosni Mubarak, which would seem ironic – because of the word “elected” that I used to describe him – but apparently not, according to Wisconsin state senators (via WSJ):

“The story around the world is the rush to democracy,” offered Democratic State Senator Bob Jauch. “The story in Wisconsin is the end of the democratic process.”

Note – amazingly – that Sen. Jauch is referring to a pending vote, and not the fact that he and his colleagues fled across the state line to (scenic) Rockford in order to keep said vote from happening. I would say it’s the adult equivalent of taking your ball and going home, but it’s not even an equivalent – it’s adults actually doing just that.

But wait! It gets better! Here’s president of the American Federation of Teachers in Wisconsin, Bryan Kennedy:

“The people of Wisconsin are crying out for democracy – democracy in the workplace, and democracy in the halls of our state capitol. Let’s hope our legislators have the wisdom to listen,” he said.


This feels a lot like when someone says something asinine, people react to it poorly, and then that person makes some kind of complaint about free speech. Freedom of speech is not freedom from the consequences of speech, just like democracy doesn’t mean getting what you want. It means getting the opportunity to vote on what you want; sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. The people of Wisconsin have democracy. In fact, they just had an election not four months ago. Here’s Joe Klein:

I mean, isn’t it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting “Freedom, Democracy, Union” while trying to prevent a vote? Isn’t it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process? Isn’t it interesting that some of those who–rightly–protest the assorted Republican efforts to stymie majority rule in the U.S. Senate are celebrating the Democratic efforts to stymie the same in  the Wisconsin Senate?

An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that. There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can’t be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter. We hold elections to decide those basic parameters. And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker’s basic requests are modest ones–asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do. He is also trying to limit the unions’ abilities to negotiate work rules–and this is crucial when it comes to the more efficient operation of government in a difficult time.

And to the topic being so hotly contested – public sector unions – Klein adds this:

Public employees unions are an interesting hybrid. Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed…of the public?

Which is why even FDR, a man whose love for private-sector unions knew no bounds, opposed the notion:

“Meticulous attention,” the president insisted in 1937, “should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government….The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” The reason? F.D.R. believed that “[a] strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable.”

And as much damage as they can cause by striking, they have a more dangerous effect elsewhere (also from the really good National Affairs piece):

Although private-sector unions in the United States have engaged in leftist “social activism,” they have mostly concentrated their efforts on securing the best wages, benefits, pensions, and working conditions for their members: “pure and simple unionism,” as longtime American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers used to call it. Rarely do they demand more hiring, since — given the constant private-sector imperative to keep operating costs minimal — increasing the number of a company’s employees can limit wage and benefit increases for the workers already on the company’s payroll.

By contrast, as economist Richard Freeman has written, “public sector unions can be viewed as using their political power to raise demand for public services, as well as using their bargaining power to fight for higher wages.” The millions spent by public-employee unions on ballot measures in states like California and Oregon, for instance, almost always support the options that would lead to higher taxes and more government spending. The California Teachers Association, for example, spent $57 million in 2005 to defeat referenda that would have reduced union power and checked government growth. And the political influence of such massive spending is of course only amplified by the get-out-the-vote efforts of the unions and their members. This power of government-workers’ unions to increase (and then sustain) levels of employment through the political process helps explain why, for instance, the city of Buffalo, New York, had the same number of public workers in 2006 as it did in 1950 — despite having lost half of its population (and thus a significant amount of the demand for public services).

Something to ponder with the recent news of Chicago’s population decline.


6 thoughts on “Wisconsin Throws a Temper Tantrum

  1. We should be under no illusion that this is solely a matter of dealing with Wisconsin’s budget issues. As I’ve indicated elsewhere, the gravity of the state’s fiscal woes really depends on who you ask. (And this article from the Wisconsin State Journal blames at least part of the problem on tax cuts that Walker implemented as soon as he entered office.) Regardless, Wisconsin is doing much better than many — if not most — other states.But how do we know that this isn’t just about reining in the deficit? Well, the protesting unions have already agreed to the financial concessions called for in this bill regarding pensions and health insurance premiums (the parts that would, you know, save the state money). Of course, they simply don’t want to give up their rights to collective bargaining. And, of course, Walker and his Republican allies in the state legislature have rejected this offer out of hand, saying they’ll pass the law as-is, without negotiation or compromise. Walker, for his part, says he won’t even talk with the unions who oppose his plan.That’s a truly incredible level of hubris demonstrated by a governor who was elected with a narrow 52 percent of the vote, and whose policies, less than two months into his administration, have created the largest protests Madison has seen since the Vietnam War era. Refusing to talk to others simply because they disagree with you isn’t good leadership. In fact, it isn’t leadership at all, unless you’re a dictator. Wisconsinites have every right to be enraged.And what of those Democratic senators who fled the state? Well, it’s a drastic action they wouldn’t have had to take if their Republican colleagues had been willing to sit down and compromise instead of acting as though they have the 100-percent backing of their constituents. The 70,000+ demonstrators in Madison and across the state would argue otherwise.Last November, 1,128,941 Wisconsin voters cast a ballot for Scott Walker. But 1,004,303 did not. Given that, and the size of these protests, he has no excuse not to negotiate with opponents who, for their part, have shown an absolute willingness to do so.

  2. None of those positions really hold water. The governor doesn’t get to just make these things happen, regardless of how many or how few votes he/she wins by – because we have branched government. In Wisconsin, the people have elected those holding the executive and legislative branch, presumably to follow through on their prior actions or campaign promises. This is something that comes through pretty clearly in the piece you linked yourself – that none of this was exactly a secret back in November, and these people were voted into office. Surely, such outlandish action as state senators feeling it necessary to flee the state seems to demand a correspondingly large cause (hubris, non-leadership, dictatorship); unfortunately, it’s a more pedestrian one: sour grapes.There’s certainly no precedent that demands everyone’s voice get heard on an issue-by-issue basis. Again, this is what we have elections for. I’m not sure where you were over the past two years when a party won the executive and legislature on the national level and promptly pushed through programs that the opposing party and sizeable groups of the population wanted no part of. Is it effective leadership? That’s open to debate. It’s not always a good way to reelected, as we also just saw on the national level.You’re right that it depends on who you hear it from on how much this is tied to the current fiscal situation – I’ll go with Politifact ( http://politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/feb/18/rachel-maddow/rachel-m… – but as is probably clear from the rest of my post, I see little reason as to why public-sector unions need the collective bargaining rights they have, anyway.

  3. If this is simply a matter of “everyone should have seen this coming” or “elections have consequences,” then certainly the same argument could be made about last year’s health care overhaul, which, of course, was a centerpiece of Obama’s 2008 campaign. Yet Republicans have consistently portrayed it as something categorically at odds with “the will of the people,” even though the people elected him (and the U.S. Congress) knowing that health care reform was exactly what they planned to do.That’s why it’s disingenuous to argue that the protesters in Wisconsin should stand by idly simply because “their side” didn’t win last November.And if “sour grapes” is the only motive behind the Democratic senators’ decision to leave Wisconsin, then surely the same could be said about the Republican minority in the U.S. Senate, who filibuster legislation at every chance they get. (It’s worth noting that the Wisconsin state Senate has no filibuster.)I’ve never been in a union, so I won’t claim any qualification to argue the merits of collective bargaining. But I will say that it seems to have very little to do with the condition of a state’s budget — unlike, say, the health care premiums or pensions, two items on which the unions have already agreed to concede. I suppose we should just take Governor Walker at his word when he says this isn’t about “union-busting.”

  4. This is my point exactly. Now, should the protesters stand idly by? No, by all means, they should make their voices heard – but to argue that somehow democracy is being cheated is categorically false.My larger point is that in most cases, busting of unions in the public sector is really always in the interest of the state budget, regardless of the fiscal condition of the moment or what those in office say.

  5. I agreed with you that democracy wasn’t being cheated — until, of course, I listened to the phone conversation between Scott Walker and “David Koch.”Walker, in many regards, reminds me of Blagojevich. He harbors delusions of grandeur (comparing himself to Reagan) and invincibility, operates under the false premise that public opinion is firmly on his side, and displays no qualms about unethical behavior (like planting “troublemakers” in the crowd of protesters or accepting rewards from political supporters in exchange for passing favorable legislation).The guy is a lying snake and corporate tool whose political fate should be exactly the same as the former Illinois governor — and the sooner that happens, the better.

  6. Politicians and dishonesty…together? Egads, Peter! What are you saying?Your own loathing aside, still, nobody’s being cheated out of anything. Boy, whoever had Scott Walker in the “Republican Who Sets Off Bizarro Tea Party Histrionics from Democrats” office pool scored huge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s