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Opinion

Opinion

Wisconsin recall serves little purpose

June 4, 2012

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— I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up.

No sir,

Not I,

Not me,

So there!

— “Peter Pan” the musical, 1954

Wauwatosa, Wis. — This state, the first to let government employees unionize, was an incubator of progressivism and gave birth (in 1932 in Madison, the precursor of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) to its emblematic institution, the government employees union — government organized as a special interest to lobby itself to expand itself. But Wisconsin progressivism is in a dark Peter Pan phase; it is childish without being winsome.

Wisconsin has produced populists of the left (Robert La Follette) and right (Joe McCarthy). On Tuesday, in this year’s second-most important election, voters will judge the attempt by a populism of the privileged — white-collar labor unions whose members live comfortably above the American median — to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

In this Milwaukee suburb, a pro-Walker phone bank is conducting mobilization, not persuasion. Is any voter undecided? For 16 months, Wisconsin, normally a paragon of Midwestern neighborliness, has been riven by furious attempts to punish Walker for keeping his campaign promise to change the state’s unsustainable fiscal trajectory driven by the perquisites of government employees. His progressive adversaries have, however, retreated from their original pretext for attempting to overturn the election Walker won handily just 19 months ago.

He defeated Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee. A recall is a gubernatorial election, and the Democrats’ May primary was won by ... Barrett.

In 2010, government employees unions campaigned against Walker’s “5 and 12” plan. It requires government employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their pay to their pension plans. (Most were paying less than 1 percent. Most private-sector workers have no pensions; those who do pay, on average, much more than 5.8 percent.) Walker’s reform requires government employees to pay 12.6 percent of their health care premiums (up from 6 percent but still less than the 21 percent private-sector average). Defeated in 2010, the unions now are demanding, as frustrated children do after losing a game, “Let’s start over!”

Like children throwing a tantrum against the rules of a game going badly, in 2011 petulant Wisconsin Democratic legislators fled to Illinois to disrupt the Legislature. Walker’s reforms included restricting the issues subject to collective bargaining. This emancipated school districts from buying teachers’ health insurance from a provider entity associated with the teachers union. Barrett used Walker’s reform to save Milwaukee $19 million.

In justifying a raucous resistance to, and then this recall of, Walker, the government employees unions stressed his restriction of collective bargaining rights. But in the May primary, these unions backed the candidate trounced by Barrett, who is largely ignoring the collective bargaining issue, perhaps partly because most worker protections are embedded in Wisconsin’s uniquely strong civil service law. Besides, what really motivates the unions and elected Democrats is that Walker ended the automatic deduction of union dues from government employees’ pay. The experience in Colorado, Indiana, Utah and Washington state is that when dues become voluntary, they become elusive.  

So, Barrett is essentially running another general election campaign, not unlike that of 2010 — except that the $3.6 billion deficit Walker inherited has disappeared and property taxes have declined. By re-posing the 2010 choice, Wisconsin progressives’ one-word platform becomes: “Mulligan!”

The emblem displayed at some anti-Walker centers is an outline of Wisconsin rendered as a clenched fist, with a red star on the heel of the hand. Walker’s disproportionately middle-aged adversaries know the red star symbolized murderous totalitarianism, yet they flaunt it as a progressive ornament. Why?

Because it satisfies the sandbox socialists’ childish pleasure in naughtiness, as does their playground name-calling (Walker is a “Midwest Mussolini”) and infantile point-scoring: When the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed Walker, Wisconsin’s Democratic Party chair fulminated that six decades ago the Sentinel (which merged with the Journal in 1995) supported McCarthy.

Also, many backward-looking baby boomers want to recapture their youthful fun of waving clenched fists in the face of privilege. Now, embarrassingly, they are privileged.

A January poll found that even 17 percent of Democrats think recalls are justified only by criminal behavior, not policy differences. If, however, Walker loses, regular Wisconsin elections will henceforth confer only evanescent legitimacy. If he wins, progressives will have inadvertently demonstrated that entrenched privilege can be challenged, and they will have squandered huge sums that cannot finance progressive causes elsewhere. So, for a change, progressives will have served progress.  

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

tange 1 year, 10 months ago

That conservative Tinker Will... liberally sprinkling the fairy dust....

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 10 months ago

Walker would not be in this predicament is he had been less obnoxious toward his political rivals.

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FalseHopeNoChange 1 year, 10 months ago

"The First Gay President" is going to have to do what he does best. Some 'community organizing' stuff. He'll need plenty of staples to put up 'anarchy' posters on telephone poles. .

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BornAgainAmerican 1 year, 10 months ago

Polls are predicting a Walker win in Wisconsin.

http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/04/late-polls-find-walker-is-still-favored/

If that happens, it will be a big blow to the left and unions. That will mean more and more states will begin to look to the economic model in Wisconsin and draft similar legislation. Although it will also be a blow to Obama, you won't hear him weigh in on this issue. His support of Collective Bargaining in Wisconsin would mean that he would also have to support Collective Bargaining for his civian federal work force. It's a fine mess he has made for himself once again. Heh, Heh...

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 10 months ago

What happens when the government stops being the enforcer for collecting union dues? About what you'd expect to happen. "... A Walker victory will expose for all to see the dirty little secret of the power of public-sector unions in America: It depends on having the government collect union dues from every employee’s paycheck, and turning the dues over to the unions without the employee’s consent. No other private entity in America — no charity, no association, no company — can do that.

Walker’s reforms ended that practice. Workers can now decide if they want to pay union dues. Clearly, the answer is no in many cases.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees was founded in Madison in 1936, making the state the launching pad for all public-sector-union organizing in the country. But now AFSCME’s Local 24 in Madison, which represented 22,300 Wisconsin state workers last year, has seen its membership shrink by two-thirds, to 7,100. Statewide, AFSCME’s membership has dropped by more than half. Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers has lost 6,000 of its 17,000 members. Small wonder. Teachers’-union dues in Wisconsin range from a hefty $700 a year up to more than $1,000.

Labor historian Fred Siegel says Walker’s changes could provide a model for reshaping American politics. “Ending dues deductions breaks the political cycle in which government collects dues and gives them to the unions, who then use the dues to back their favorite candidates and also lobby for bigger government and more pay and benefits,” he told me.

With regard to rights and worker protections, the reduction of union power won’t affect most state workers. Governor Walker points out that the employee rights that people care about most fall under civil-service rules that his reforms don’t touch. “We have the strongest protections in the country on grievance procedures, merit hiring, and just cause for disciplining and terminating employees,” he told me. “All that stays.”..."

http://www.nationalreview.com/blogs/print/301674

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 10 months ago

The US Justice Department is mionitoring the elections tomorrow in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin DOJ will be doing the same in 12 cities. http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/June/12-crt-709.html http://www.postcrescent.com/article/20120603/APC010405/306030086/

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 10 months ago

Interesting to note that in tomorrow's WI recall election IDs will not be required. In fact, poll workers have been expressly told they CANNOT ask for IDs because to do so would be voter suppression according to the state constitution. One little right wing Koch Brothers/ALEC law Walker didn't get passed in time.

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 10 months ago

Finding out some rather lovely things about Mr. Walker. Not only did he not finish college (and may very well have been thrown out of Marquette for cheating. Can't tell because he refuses to release his college records, which I don't have a problem with, believe it or not. It is his right just as much as it's the FLOTUS' right not to release hers.) but it also appears that when he was in college, he got his girlfriend preggo and then dumped her when she refused to have an abortion. Mr. Pro-Life himself had to pay child support when she took it to court and he failed (or passed, depending on your viewpoint) a paternity test.

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jfs1047 1 year, 10 months ago

I guess I would have two questions for Mr. Will. If government jobs are so good why doesn't everyone want one. If the private sector employee wants a good pension and benefits, why don't they unionize. It seemed to work in the 30s', 40s', 50s', etc; in fact up until the 1980s'. Finally, I would ask that he not be so pompous.

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Beth Ennis 1 year, 10 months ago

Being from Wisconsin, I've heard a lot about this on both sides. The real issue was not even discussed in this article. Walker did not even mention breaking unions when he ran for governor. Not once, in fact, he was backed by the police and fire unions, whose unions he left untouched. Those unions supported all the others in the protests and the recalls. The state employee union agreed to every concession he proposed. Every single one. that wasn't good enough for him. He then preceeded to break the unions by not allowing the collection of union dues. What isn't being mentioned here is that unions tend to suport democrats. What he did was take away funding for democrats, while Republicans are still allowed to get their support from very wealthy donors like the Koch brothers. What he did was wrong. Had he stopped when he got the agreement from the union to pay more for insurance and pension this recall would not be happening. I believe he over stepped his bounds and it is the voters right and responsibility to let elected officials know they can not go off half cocked and do whatever they feel like doing. I hope he is recalled. He cost the city/county of Milwaukee millions when he fired state security guards at the courthouse and replaced them with contractors. The fired employees won and he left Milwaukee with a debt of something like 2-3 million dollars when he went off to be the governor. It sounds like Wisconsin is now doing well, but he didn't need to break the unions to try to preserve republican dominance in the state. We will see what happens.

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 10 months ago

I am generally not in favor of recall elections.

Remember that Arnold Schwarzenegger beat Gray Davis in a recall election in California. This was not motivated by criminal conduct, wrong-doing, or even broken campaign promises. The GOP (mostly Darryl Issa) simply disagreed with Davis and used public disgruntlement and Schwarzenegger's star power as an opportunity to replace Davis with a GOPer.

However, recall elections are the law of the land in CA and WI. I disagree with almost all of Walker's actions (mistakes) as governor, and I will be happy to see him recalled.

I guess the lesson is that hatefully eye-poking your opposition can lead to this sort of thing. Walker's problem was that when he won, he gleefully and vocally tried to embarrass and destroy his opposition. My guess is that if he quietly went about these same measures without antagonizing his opposition, he would not be in this situation.

A note: Brownback has done the same thing in Kansas. Defunding the arts commission was a poke in the eye, as was saying that he doesn't want democratic support on any of his efforts.

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pace 1 year, 10 months ago

I wish we had the same rights, I would sign a recall petition for Brownback in a second, and spend my free time taking it to my neighbors. Brownback is destroying infrastructure. He and his cronies are making a wasteland of our state. Brownback should resign. I would be thrilled to sign a recall petition for Sam.

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POTUSFAIL 1 year, 10 months ago

If voter suppression/fraud is almost non-existent as the left constantly declares, why has David Axelrod said on more than one occasion that Democrats have 'army of lawyers' in Wisconsin for the recall election?

http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/w...

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camper 1 year, 10 months ago

A recall serves a democratic purpose if the elected official breaks campaign promises. I think it should be a last resort used only for extreme cases. I am not sure Walker's case qualifies because I have not followed the situation closely.

However, he did break a promise to pay for his own pension as he asked of other public employees. And voters were surprised at the his attack on unions. I think they elected him on his budgetary promises....not his desire to break unions.

I don't know.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

For many of the wackospheric posters on this forum, socialist = not a cheerleader for the plutocracy (who occasionally parrot theocratic talking points to keep the sheep in tow.)

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rockchalk1977 1 year, 10 months ago

It appears Democrats are taking issue with Obama ducking Wisconsin. Union members were surprised to hear that Obama was scheduled to hold events in Minnesota, while not planning to stump with Barrett in a bordering state. Many union members said Obama, who claims to be a labor-friendly president, should not leave them twisting in the wind. Barrett downplayed Obama’s absence and announced a consolation "prize", a campaign appearance from Philanderer-In-Chief Slick Willie Clinton. This could be a overwhelming defeat for union loving Democrats tomorrow and a precursor for November.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

Walker's tenure as Milwaukee County Executive can be summed up in one word-- corrupt.

Will Scott Walker Be Given a Pink Slip, an Orange Jump Suit or a Second Chance?

http://www.prwatch.org/news/2012/06/11566/will-scott-walker-be-given-pink-slip-orange-jump-suit-or-second-chance

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DeckDoctors 1 year, 10 months ago

It's great to see socialists losing it all over this country in elections. The real American people do not want socialism, nor communism nor liberalism for that matter. All of you Libs should pack up and head to Venezuela so you and your pal can eat the dust of real American production. The Socialist in Chief will soon taste defeat...if he doesn't fake an emergency to halt elections.

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nativeson 1 year, 10 months ago

Let's face it, money is coming into the state supporting both sides in unprecedented amounts. This recall election has become an important milestone for both presidential campaigns to measure the mood of the country.

Ironically, Mr. Barrett is running against the reforms that he himself effectively put into place in Milwaukee as Mayor. Milwaukee faced the same deficit issues that the state faced prior to the current administration, and Mr. Barrett put forth the same requirement for municipal employees to contribute to their health care and pension costs.

I think this recall election illustrates why most elected officials focus on tax policy versus spending policy. It is too hard to unwind decades of entitlements in public sector jobs. It is easier to put through tax cuts and try to force the issue which is the wrong way to go about it.

The fact is that Wisconsin is now fiscally sound, and it was not before his election. If Democrats in the state have an alternative that can continue to fund health care and pensions at 100% for employees and balance the budget, let's see the plan.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 10 months ago

First of all, Walker did not give any indication in his campaign for governor that he would take the most divisive measures that have led to this recall campaign. Politicians often lie during campaigns, and Walker is proving to be a pathological liar.

But it's not surprising that Will would take the side of Walker and his millionaire and billionaire backers in this frontline in what can only be describe as an all-out class war. The Citizen's United ruling has allowed these millionaires and billionaires to flood Wisconsin with unprecedented amounts of money, funding a hysterical propaganda campaign (parroted by Will here.) Even if that wins a very close election for Walker, the destruction of the fabric of society in Wisconsin that Walker and the Republicans have set in motion will leave a large percentage of those who vote for Walker regretting that action, and voting accordingly in coming years.

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rtwngr 1 year, 10 months ago

I am pulling for Walker. It's high time the "Sandbox Socialists" shut the heck up.

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Steve Jacob 1 year, 10 months ago

Recall elections are a joke. It's like saying we voters messed up the first time, but we might get it right the next time. Same thing in Egypt. They overthrew the government to maybe elect the Prime Minister of the guy they just convicted to life in prison. And they will riot if he wins in an fair and square (according to Jimmy Carter) election.

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cato_the_elder 1 year, 10 months ago

"Sandbox socialists" well describes a number of posters on this forum.

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cowboy 1 year, 10 months ago

Pretty disgusting article George. Name calling voters who are exercising their constitution right to a voter recall as "petulant' , "childish", sandbox socialists’.

Surprised he didn't pull out the "uppity" word.

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camper 1 year, 10 months ago

I knew it was a Will column. Guessed it by the title.

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 10 months ago

I love the smell of fear. (That makes me sound like Snap, BAA and other members of the "boys club" but I don't care.) There may have been others but this is the first time I ever recall seeing a gubernatorial candidate whose war chest includes a legal defense fund.

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Roland Gunslinger 1 year, 10 months ago

Win or lose it looks like Walker will have some explaining to do as it appears he is a target in a major criminal investigation.

http://www.salon.com/2012/06/01/scott_walkers_john_doe_scandal_explained/singleton/

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