The Journal Sentinel just posted an on-line article by Jason Stein that Kathleen Falk, former Dane County Executive, has made a pledge to union leaders of WEAC and AFSCME that, if elected to replace Scott Walker, she will veto any state budget that does not restore past collective bargaining rights for public workers. If the report is accurate, then one of two things will now occur: One, Kathleen Falk will not be the candidate of the Democratic Party in any gubernatorial recall election that may be ordered. Two, many weeks of hard effort by folks all over the state to gather recall petitions will be flushed right down the toilet drain.
Two days ago, a Washington Post op ed columnist, Charles Lane, wrote a column entitled "Who's Progressive in Wisconsin?" that criticized the recall effort in Wisconsin as undermining democracy. The column irritated me as I felt it reflected a somewhat arrogant lack of understanding of the many reasons that recall signatures had been gathered this winter. Lane took a million Wisconsin citizens to the editorial woodshed:
For public-sector unions, the Walker recall is no mere exercise in payback. The unions, upon which Democrats depend heavily for funding and foot soldiers, say Walker must be ousted and his reforms reversed for the sake of the middle class. Progressive values — even democracy itself — are in mortal danger.
Actually, the opposite is true. The threat to such progressive goals as majority rule, transparent government, a vibrant public sector and equality comes from public-sector unionism.
I had supposed that Walker’s victory in 2010, along with the victory of Republicans in both houses of the state legislature, entitled the people’s choices to make policy until the next election.
I had not realized that Wisconsin’s voters were allowed to elect representatives to do everything except change the rules on collective bargaining.
Of course, collective bargaining in the public sector is inherently contrary to majority rule. It transfers basic public-policy decisions — namely, the pay and working conditions that taxpayers will offer those who work for them — out of the public square and behind closed doors. Progressive Wisconsin has a robust “open meetings” law covering a wide range of government gatherings except — you guessed it — collective bargaining with municipal or state employees. So much for transparency.
Even worse, to the extent that unions bankroll the campaigns of the officials with whom they will be negotiating — and they often do — they sit on both sides of the table.Reading the piece made me think that Lane was just buying into the Republican meme that the recall was solely a reaction to the collective bargaining issue, and driven by the unions. Since reading the column I have been thinking of a good way to summarize all the multitude of issues and policy screw-ups by the Walker administration that caused people in Wisconsin to pound the pavement for recall. Now, reading Jason Stein's article, I feel like it would be a waste of time. Kathleen Falk, WEAC and AFSCME have now made it all about the unions.
What I believe motivated most people to seek recall was the type of political brinksmanship from the right that saw meaningless and short public hearings on important issues of health care accessibility, the slashing of K-12 and secondary education budgets without carefully considering alternatives, open meeting violations, late night votes where the minority party wasn't given the time of day, and the demonizing of teachers and other public workers as greedy malcontents.
Now, because 1,000,000 signatures were gathered with the help of union members, the unions have decided the time is ripe for them to engage in brinkmanship from the left. Politics isn't tiddlywinks, so the saying goes, and for some ill-conceived reason, the unions think that now is the time to publicly demonstrate that the recall effort was, in fact, all about them.
I signed a recall petition. I have written (admittedly in a less than artful, often sophomoric fashion) about the political scene in Wisconsin since the end of last February. I detest much of the policy changes that have been put in place by the Republicans since January of last year. But if Kathleen Falk wins the nomination to oppose Scott Walker in a recall election after making a pledge to veto the state budget if it does not restore collective bargaining, then barring Walker's criminal indictment, I will walk whistling into my polling station and cast my ballot for him. I do not intend to replace him with a candidate who has made a promise to put at risk senior citizens, people in need of medical assistance, the university system, and public support of K-12 education, in order to play brinksmanship games on behalf of unions with a legislature that will almost certainly still be Republican in at least one house. I can't imagine anything that the unions and Falk could do that would make the Republican Party happier, short of coming out in favor of polygamy or Sharia law, than to have entered into the backroom bargain being reported today. A devoutly dumb miscalculation.