Evening everybody and welcome to In The News. Glad you can be with us tonight. I’d like to talk today about the recall election that happened in Wisconsin last week. As some of you may have heard, there was an election last week to recall the State’s Governor, Republican Scott Walker midway through his first term. And it had to do with his attack, or perceived attack depending on your point of view, on the State’s public sector unions.
Now, this show is a follow up to a show we did on the Wisconsin union issue last year. Actually it was our very first show. So if you haven’t listened to it yet please go back and give that a listen. It’ll give you some background on the issue and some details on Scott Walker’s specific proposals regarding State unions in Wisconsin. In this show I’d like to just talk about the results of last week’s election its implications going forward.
Scott Walker, who is a Republican, was elected Governor of Wisconsin in 2010. He ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism. So his main goals were to restore the State’s fiscal well being. At the time he was running, Wisconsin had amassed a budget deficit of about $2.7 billion dollars.
So Scott Walker wanted to restore fiscal sanity to Wisconsin. He proposed a jobs initiative that would spur growth. And he wanted to spur growth by lowering taxes and decreasing bureaucracy at the state level. He also proposed balancing the state’s budget. And for this strategy he proposed trimming the benefits of public sector unions. i.e. city and state workers. He argued that Wisconsin could no longer afford a system where public sector workers were making more than the taxpayers who were paying their wages. He went on to describe public sector workers as ‘haves’ and Wisconsin taxpayers as ‘have nots.’
One of his first acts as Governor was to propose a bill that cut benefits to public sector unions and severely limit their rights to collective bargaining. The bill proposed to force union workers to greatly increase their contribution to their pensions. And to nearly double their contribution to their health care premiums.
The plan also called to severely restrict collective bargaining rights for state employees. The plan proposed to limit collective bargaining only to the subject of wages. It has traditionally been used in the negotiation of all benefits. So we’re talking about health insurance, workplace conditions, time off etc.
Now, collective bargaining, for those of you who don’t know, is a method of bargaining by which all the employees of a union get together and bargain as a group. Instead of each employee negotiating better wages on his or her own for example, or negotiating more benefits or better working conditions etc etc, all of the employees get together and bargain as one. And the reason they do this is because when bargaining as a group or bargaining collectively, employees increase their bargaining power. They can negotiate terms that are a little fairer and a little more equitable.
So Scott Walker wanted to do away with this on most issues except wages. He also wanted to make it harder for unions to organize. He proposed stopping union dues from being automatically collected from paychecks thus making it harder for unions to collect their dues. He also wanted to institute a system where members had to vote every year on whether or not they want to stay unionized. A step that was seen as aimed at eroding union stability.
It was really these last few parts of the plan that set off the firestorm around this issue. The plan was seen as being motivated not by budget issues by political issues. It was seen not as trying to fix the budget but as trying to weaken unions.
It’s worth noting at this point that the unions agreed to the financial aspects of the plan. They agreed to the increased contribution to their pension, and they also agreed to pay the higher share of their health care premiums. So the financial issues weren’t the main points of contention. It was the union issues that caused the uproar and really made this issue into the battle it became.
Now, Scott Walker’s bill eventually passed with much controversy. The Republican controlled state legislature pushed the bill through despite protests from the democratic members. But they pushed it through and it passed.
Not long after that the move to recall Governor Walker began. Now, a recall is an election where voters can vote to have an elected official removed from office before their term has ended. It’s meant to be used in those cases where serious malfeasance has occurred. Most states don’t have specific grounds for recalls, but most people consider sufficient grounds to be serious misbehavior or impropriety. Some people feel that there would have to be criminal behavior involved in order to justify a recall. Wisconsin law states only that a petition to recall an elected official must get over 500,000 valid signatures for a recall election to be authorized.
The Democratic Party in Wisconsin, with the help of motivated labor unions, collected over 1 million signatures to force a recall of Gov. Scott Walker. The signatures were delivered in January and the recall election date was set for June 5th. So the election was authorized and was set to take place. The Democrats nominated Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee to oppose Scott Walker. And funny enough this was the exact same matchup from the original race for Governor in 2010.
Now money poured in to Wisconsin from all over the country. Republicans eager to support someone who sought a conservative vision supported Walker, and Democrats who wanted to push back on what they viewed as an attack on labor unions and the working class, opposed him. It became seen as a small example of a much larger battle going on in national politics these days: Big government liberalism vs. small government conservatism.
In the end, the support for Scott Walker proved too much for Democrats and Tom Barrett. Governor Walker won the election by a 53% to 46% margin. It wasn’t very close. It was widely seen as a stinging defeat for Wisconsin democrats and the labor movement who tried so hard to drive Governor Walker from office.
Now one of the things that I found most interesting was that in a poll that was taken on Election Day, it was an exit poll that was taken of voters who had just voted, it was found that 60% of voters felt that recalls are legitimate only in cases of official misconduct. Only 27% felt that recalls are legitimate for any reason.
So it seems that for a large majority of voters in Wisconsin, this recall didn’t pass the bar for what makes a recall election necessary. It seems that the requirements for a lot of voters for what makes a recall legitimate were never really satisfied. So perhaps that was part of the reason for the results turning out the way they did.
Now, I believe that Scott Walker’s proposals were not just about the budget. There was little reason to attach those union provisions to that budget bill. Asking union members to contribute a larger share of their income to their health care benefits in a time when a state’s budget is strained is legitimate. It is a legitimate budgetary initiative. And unions should, and probably do in most cases, understand that. But making it harder to collect union dues or making it a bit harder to stay unionized is strictly a political attack.
Organized labor is one of the biggest constituents of the Democratic Party in this country. And these union attacks were largely seen as a back door way to weaken one of the strongest constituents of the Democratic Party, and by extension, weaken the Democratic Party itself. Attaching provisions such as these to a budget bill when they are not necessary seem to indicate that those assertions are true.
Now, if there are budget issues that need to be negotiated, elected officials have every right, actually they have the duty to do so. And unions can and should understand that. But introducing provisions such as these only smacks of dirty politics.
Now that being said, I also have to say that I didn’t really agree with the decision to force a recall of Governor Walker. Recalls are to be used only in situations where there has been serious misconduct. A serious dereliction of duty, almost criminal behavior. They are not to be used because you don’t agree with someone’s policies. To use them in that way would only start an endless cycle of elections. Where one official gets elected, proposes something that a section of the population doesn’t like, they move to recall them. Another official gets elected, they propose something another section of the population doesn’t like, they get recalled and so on and so on. The real danger there is that they would render regular elections meaningless. And normal business of the city and state would ground to a halt. And that is in no one’s interest.
At any rate, the recall is over. And it’s time now to move forward. Governor Walker and his allies need to realize that it’s best to act in good faith and discuss the problems of Wisconsin in an open and honest way. And the public unions and their supporters need to realize that in the end everyone in Wisconsin is in the same boat, and the will of the voters of Wisconsin needs to be respected. It’s worth pointing out at this point and this platform of fiscal conservatism is what Scott Walker originally ran on in 2010. So it’s not as though he ran on one set of policies and then chose to pursue another set once he got into office.
The union laws were a step too far, I would agree, but he is a conservative and he chose to pursue a conservative agenda. in the end though, Democrats have to know and take comfort in the fact that they will get another chance to “recall” Governor Walker, in 2 short years. This time in the regularly scheduled gubernatorial election of 2014.
That’s our show for this evening, we hope you enjoyed it. And we hope you’ll join us again next time on In The News. Please visit our page at blogtalkradio.com/inthenews for dates and times of our upcoming shows. And please be sure to send in your comments. We’d love to hear them. And you can send those in to email@example.com. That’s in the in the news, the number 2, all one word, at yahoo.com. Include your name and town in the email and we may just read them on the air. Hope to see you next time everybody. Good night.