What Of Walker’s Win In Wisconsin?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker became the first American governor to survive a recall election last night.  In a rematch of a 2010 contest, he gathered more than 53 percent of the vote and beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett — by a margin slightly better than that Walker achieved in 2010.

As is often the case with such events, people want to draw sweeping inferences from this one event.  We’ll see many articles about what this means for the future of the public employee unions that brought about Walker’s recall election after he pushed through reforms of public employee collective bargaining rights, for Republican governors in other states, and for President Obama’s reelection prospects.  It’s a natural human tendency, I think, to want to see a broad pattern in isolated events — but often those perceived patterns don’t really exist.

Public employee unions aren’t going away.  They lost in their bid to unseat Walker in Wisconsin, but they defeated another public employee collective bargaining law in Ohio.  Where’s the pattern in that?  Members of public employee unions, like other members of private-sector unions, believe in collective bargaining rights.  One reason they objected so strongly to Walker’s reforms is that they believe the reforms improperly interfere with fairly gained, bargained-for rights and benefits, won after hard-fought negotiations in which union members may have given in on other issues.  In their eyes, the fact that taxpayers and people in the private sector might view those rights and benefits as overly rich is irrelevant, because they are stalwart believers in the collective bargaining process that achieved those rights.  Public employee unions in other states aren’t going to roll over just because the unions did not prevail in Wisconsin.  If they did, it would undercut the entire idea of public employee labor unions.

I also doubt that Walker’s win is going to charge Republican governors in other states with enthusiasm for taking on public employee unions and pushing sweeping reforms — at least, no more so than is absolutely necessary to achieve balanced budgets and govern responsibly.  Walker prevailed, but his actions precipitated a bruising political battle, sidetracked his term with a recall campaign and election, and ultimately resulted in more than $60 million in campaign spending, much of it by organizations outside of Wisconsin.  It’s therefore no surprise that Walker was playing the pipes of peace after yesterday’s result.  Although politicians love to talk about “fighting” for voters, one way or another, most of them are inveterate compromisers who aren’t looking to pick a knife fight, especially when they know they can’t count on advocacy groups supporting their efforts to the same extent that occurred in Wisconsin.

As for President Obama, he largely stayed out of the Wisconsin recall election fray and will be able to depict it as a one-shot, one-state result that doesn’t have broad national significance.  How do you glean national trends from an election rematch that produced pretty much the same result as the initial 2010 election between Walker and Barrett?  If there is a lesson there, it is that voters stuck with Walker, despite all of the controversy and protests, in a contest that involved extraordinary spending by both sides.  But how many of those Walker voters cast their ballots because they object, in principle, to recall elections under such circumstances?  How many were motivated by special concerns not found in the national electorate?  I’m just not convinced that the Wisconsin results in June are going to predict much with respect to national results in November.

The Wisconsin recall election is an interesting mid-year event that may be the start of a trend — or it may not.

At The Ohio Statehouse Union Rally

A view from the Statehouse steps onto the northwest lawn

Today, after lunch, Richard and I walked over to the Ohio Statehouse to check out the big union rally against Senate Bill 5, the bill that would affect the ability of public employees to engage in collective bargaining rights.  I had been hearing the hubbub outside my office window and was eager to see the turnout.

We got to the Statehouse about 12:45 and entered at the Third Street entrance.  There were some union folks out on Third Street and milling around the entrance.  We saw people wearing public employee union t-shirts, jackets and buttons in the map room and in the Atrium above.  Rows of chairs had been set up in the Atrium, facing each other across a center aisle, and as we walked through a large, leather-lunged woman was leading the crowd in “We want respect” chants.  I would estimate that several hundred people were in the Atrium, and they were in good spirits.

Signs at today's Statehouse rally

We crossed through the Statehouse Rotunda and exited out the Broad Street entrance, which was where the real action was.  A temporary stage had been erected and two singers with guitars were singing union songs.  The crowd covered about two-thirds of the west lawn and sidewalk, with people sitting on the benches and standing on parts of the McKinley memorial.  There were lots of union t-shirts, hats, and some very creative signs criticizing Governor Kasich.  Some of the signs seemed to be generated by outside forces.  For example, we saw several signs referring to Governor Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Walker as “Koch-heads” or “Koch addicts,” and I’m not sure most union workers would focus on the Koch brothers as sign material without some kind of prompting.

The people at the rally were pleasant and friendly, and the whole gathering had an upbeat open-air feel.  The Ohio Highway Patrol had officers at points in the Statehouse, and they were professional and friendly as always.  We later heard an estimate that 8,500 people were at the rally.  I’m not sure it was that large when we were there, but there definitely were thousands of people in attendance.  We did not see any counter-protest.

Regardless of your politics, if you are downtown restauranteur you have to like these protests.  We saw lots of protestors crowding into the Tip Top, Dunkin Donuts, and other restaurants in the core downtown Columbus area.

Weirdness In Wisconsin, Coming To Ohio?

The old saying is that “elections have consequences.”  That truism is playing out in Wisconsin, where Republicans were swept into control of statewide offices in November.  Wisconsin Democrats and their supporters are trying to thwart the Republicans’ agenda — to the point where Democrats in the Wisconsin Senate have high-tailed it out of the state to prevent the Senate from achieving the quorum it needs to conduct business.

The key issue at present is public employee unions.  New Governor Scott Walker and Republican legislators want to change the collective bargaining rights of most public employees and require those employees to pay half of their pension costs and 12.8 percent of their health care costs.  Wisconsin is facing significant budget shortfalls, and the measures are expected to save $300 million during the next two-year budget cycle.  Public employees, their unions, and Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature adamantly oppose these efforts.  Public employees have flooded the Wisconsin capitol building to protest; many were teachers who called in “sick” to participate.  Meanwhile, stout-hearted Democratic state senators boarded a bus and fled Wisconsin so they would be beyond the jurisdiction of the Senate Sergeant at Arms.  The Democratic senators who skedaddled have been found at a Best Western resort in Rockford, Illinois.

It tells you a lot about the power of public employee unions in the Democratic party that they can prevail upon elected officials to engage in such a petulant and embarrassing stunt.  And it tells you even more about the sweet deal that public employees must have in the Badger State if paying only half of their pension costs and less than 13 percent of their health care costs causes them to prevail upon their Democratic allies to go to the mattresses.  Most private sector workers I know would be thrilled to have their employers paying half of their pension contributions and 87 percent of health care costs.  And who do you suppose is paying for the sumptuous lodging at the Rockford Best Western?

This drama will be reenacted elsewhere, as cash-strapped states look to employee costs as a place to achieve savings.  The issue may be coming to a head soon here in Ohio, where a bill attempting to overhaul collective bargaining for public employees is working its way through the legislative process.  Yesterday there were large rallies for and against the measure at the Ohio Statehouse.