Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recall is garden variety politics

In response to my post yesterday on Governor Walker, Lester Pines complains that the Governor's motivation was political based on the desire to destroy an institution that opposes the Republican Party and, although he doesn't say it, supports the Democrats. For Lester, collective bargaining reform "was motivated by a desire to eliminate the main opponents of the political and social agenda of the Republican Party, not to ensure that state and municipal budgets were balanced."

Two things. First, reforming collective bargaining is intrinsically tied with balancing state and municipal budgets. The contracts that labor unions negotiate cost money. They add cost not only by increasing wages and fringe benefits, but by imposing a panoply of work rules and limitations on the management of the public workforce that increase costs. If you make it harder to fire poor performers, change job duties and manage in a way designed to deliver the most service at the lowest cost, you make it more difficult to balance the budget.

Second, the political motivations for supporting or opposing collective bargaining as we have known it in Wisconsin cut both ways and, in my view, the fire side equities cut in the Governor's favor. To be sure, the Walker reforms will reduce the amount of money that unions have to contribute to the Democrats and spend in ways that promote the Democratic and left liberal agenda.

But why is that so?

It is so because the unions will now have to convince their members to support their political activities. In the past, unions could compel even those who did not wish to belong to unions to financially support their activities. While employees could ask that their fair share payments not include funds used for political activity, this is an enormously ineffective remedy. First, the amounts excluded as "political" are generally oonly a fraction of the amount that might be characterized as such. Second, money is fungible so even money used to support supposedly nonpolitical activities supports an infrastructure upon which political activities can be based. Third, it is enormously beneficial to the unions to require employees to "opt out." This makes it much easier to collect money than it would be if the unions - like every other organization that spends money on politics - had to convince members to choose to send them money and arrange to collect it themselves.

Eliminating these advantages will benefit Republicans and help Democrats just as retaining them would benefit Democrats and hurt Republicans. But there is no intrinsic right for unions to have them and, in fact, I would argue that retaining them is a serious imposition on the prerogatives of dissenting employees and confers an artificial advantage on Democrats.

Jim Rowen complains that Walker did not campaign on collective bargaining reform but it is unclear how that supports a recall. As George Mitchell asks, would Jim have thought it appropriate to recall Governor Doyle for not campaigning on a tax increase?  Do we want a principle that says that public officials cannot implement any policy that they did not mention during their campaign?

I understand that Lester and Jim don't support the Governor and wish he was gone. Some of us had similar feelings about Governor Doyle (whose record of rewarding campaign supporters was every bit the equal - I would say much more blatant - than Walker's). Somehow we avoided an eternal campaign. But if recalls are going to become just another arrow in the political quiver, the Democrats may be sorry that they started this. Once a restraint on political combat is cast aside, it is almost impossible to go back.


John Foust said...

Because if Walker had revealed his true plans, he would have lost the election. Why did he keep the secret? It was a power grab. He wanted the power first so he could implement what he knew the majority did not support.

Walker committed a dramatic lie of omission, and you say the Democrats "started this." On WPR this morning, a WisGOP apologist said that Walker was being a "statesman" for keeping his plans in secret. Tell us what "principle" Walker was demonstrating here. Was it a Christian principle? A conservative, small-government principle? A Scout principle?

Want to run government like a business? If a new CEO stepped in and unilaterally eliminated the entire human resources department and its mechanisms for dealing with hiring, compensation, safety, complaints, reprimands, and offered no replacement, said it was an unavoidable cost-saving measure, and suggested that individual departments could deal with these issues on their own... would you call them an admirable business leader? Would a better CEO, in fact, "lead", and by example and explanation, explain the need for the cuts, explain the processes that would change, empower his delegates to help shape the direction of change, and do his best to implement the plan for the betterment of the company, while doing as little damage as possible to cash flow and employee morale?

Watch Wisconsin Eye and see the sausage being made. Watch how the policy of bullying has trickled down from the top. It's shameful. It's made the state a laughing-stock around the world. That's not good for business.

Anonymous said...

It is disingenuous for members of the recall effort to cry foul that the Governor did not talk about collective bargaining during the campaign. Modification of the collective bargaining laws was only possible because the GOP won the Assembly and the Senate. If the Democrats would have won one of the houses, this strategy would not have been possible. Walker would have had to implement a different strategy to balance the budget. Control of the Senate and Assembly were in question up to the election. Why would you campaign on a strategy you may not have the opportunity to implement?

The Governor promised to fix the state’s budget problems. He and the Legislature have done so. Promise kept. If the left wants politicians to run for office to not only describe the sausage, but also how they plan to make it. That’s fine. I look forward to reading Mr. Foust’s critique of the President and how his governance greatly varies from what he campaigned on. In particular, the passage of the health care legislation. Also how Governor Doyle and the Democratic legislature passed a state budget with significant tax hikes. We are still waiting for the public hearing.

Collective bargaining with two sides representing their own interests can be a useful tool in finding balance. However, this has not been the case with public service unions in Wisconsin. When a group on one side can control who is negotiating on the other side and who is making the rules for the negotiation, you do not have bargaining. You have patronage. You have unbalanced power. You have abuse. That’s the story of the Wisconsin public service unions.

The Governor did not eliminate the state’s human resources function. Unlike the Doyle years, agencies are being allowed to fill vacancies. Civil service rules are still in place. Compensation plans and benefit plans still exist, similar to the 90 percent of American work places that do not operate under a CBA. In fact, me state can now move toward a 21st century attitude about the employer-employee relationship.

Do these reforms politically benefit Governor Walker and candidates not beholden to the public service unions? Absolutely. Was this his primary motivation for doing it? I don’t know. No one knows for sure except the Governor. It seems to be one of those occasions becoming a rarity: good policy is also good politically. I also think it hypocritical to say the efforts to end collective bargaining for public service unions is political when the motivation for establishing collective bargaining was primarily political in the first place.


James Rowen said...

I am surprised, Rick, that you cannot see Walker's huge lie of omission as an ethical disqualifier, in and of itself, to serve as the state's highest official, representative and spokesperson.

George Mitchell said...

Walker's "huge lie"?


The real huge lie is the notion that WEAC, AFSCME, et.al., were ready and willing to sit down with Walker and bargain on economic issues so as to avoid tax increases and balance the budget.

Walker's record as County Executive, and the vigorous opposition to his candidacy by organized labor, are directly related. He spent about 8 years learning how ready and willing the unions were to deal.

Apparently the "big lie" is that Walker did not specify in the campaign all the details of his collective bargaining plan. Dating to the early 1970s, when I worked for Pat Lucey, I can recall countless gubernatorial initiatives that were more opaque or non-existent in campaigns. UW merger, to cite just one. Where was the move to recall Pat Lucey. This list could go on and on.

By comparison, it is no surprise that Scott Walker after 8 years as County Exec went after public employee compensation and the inextricably linked topic of collective bargaining.

Anonymous said...

The fear of poverty or being poor is a powerful motivator...nearly half the nation doesn't make enough to pay Fed taxes...we see the tea party and Wall street protest...it appears that our politicians are waking up the nation from it's slumber...

Brew city brawler said...

Damn that lucey! Thanks, George, comic gold.

Again, can you provide an answer on why if you can't balance a budget w/o busting unions, Walker didn't run on that platform?

Anonymous said...

If the bottom line was balancing the budget, why did Scooter shift millions to corporate interests and the top earners in the state? Shouldn't he have gone to those folks and explained now was not the time to redistribute state taxpayer money to a select few? This is the part that seems disingenuous.

-Karl Hungus

Dad29 said...

Walker's huge lie of omission


Compared to Doyle's Huge Lie of COMmission?

"We must not, we can not, we WILL not raise taxes!!!"

Stuff your sanctimonious hypocrisy, Jim.

Brew City Brawler said...

Rick: That would have been a hell of a platform for Walker to run on. Why didn't he? And would he have been reelected if he had?

jimspice said...

D29, the but-you-guys-do-it-too thing is getting very tired.

Tom said...

"If the bottom line was balancing the budget, why did Scooter shift millions to corporate interests and the top earners in the state? Shouldn't he have gone to those folks and explained now was not the time to redistribute state taxpayer money to a select few? This is the part that seems disingenuous."

Please. Redistributing taxpayer money? Letting a business keep more of its own money is not redistribution of taxpayer money. Furthermore, if you actually go through the tax breaks, you'll realize that nearly all of them are directly tied to creating or bringing jobs to Wisconsin (and the other is available to everybody, not just the rich or businesses).

"D29, the but-you-guys-do-it-too thing is getting very tired."

It's not "you guys do it too", it's Doyle did something significantly worse than what Walker did. Walker didn't say "We must not, we cannot, and I will not get rid of any collective bargaining."

Dad29 said...

Spicey just hates those damn facts.

George Mitchell said...

Rick concludes, "the Democrats may be sorry that they started this. Once a restraint on political combat is cast aside, it is almost impossible to go back."

As I see things, many, many Dems are delighted to be in this mode. Perpetual, self-absorbed outrage suits them to a tee. A failure to recall Walker or a defeat in a recall election might change their mind.

Anonymous said...

----If a new CEO stepped in and unilaterally eliminated the entire human resources department and its mechanisms for dealing with hiring, compensation, safety, complaints, reprimands, and offered no replacement,

Because we all know that Wisconsin has no state worker employment protections -- without unions it will be utter chaos, biblical catastrophe, dogs sleeping with cats. Guaranteed annual raises limited to 1 percent!!!!!

Lester Pines said...


So, the people who want to recall Governor Walker and who have a constitutionally protected right to do so, should not have exercised that because in the future other people might want to do the same thing?

The fact is that Governor Walker and his minions in the Legislature badly over-reached and angered a lot of people, not just unions. Those people now want the Governor out of office and they have every right to try to accomplish that goal.

Was there really "restraint in political combat" before this recall movement? Was the Gableman campaign, aided by his "issue ad" allies, an example of such "restraint?" Were the myriad "issue" ads falsely placing Georgia Thompson under the direct supervision of Governor Doyle's chief of staff "restrained."

Politics is a tough business and when politicians, like Governor Walker make enough people angry, they respond with recall campaigns. Which reminds me: that's how Scott Walker became County Executive, wasn't it? I guess the recall door opened during the era of "political restraint."


brew city brawler said...

When's another thoughtful response from George Mitchell coming?

brew city brawler said...

Worth noting that the most offensive ad (legally, ethically and otherwise) of the gableman race came from his own campaign, not a third party.

George Mitchell said...

Lester Pines is 100% correct that Walker opponents have a legal right to pursue a recall. He's a good lawyer and should stick to it.

The recall arises from Walker's actions to address the fiscal malfeasance of Jim Doyle. Doyle's opponents did not pursue a recall because they did not choose to abuse that process over a policy difference. Even though Doyle manifestly lied about the budget deficit.

In the unlikely event that Walker is recalled and defeated in an election, his replacement will have some interesting decisions. Higher taxes. Layoffs. And so on. The unions who finance the recall will want complete payback. That will be a problem for Dems. There is a difference between rallying outside the Capitol and governing.

Anonymous said...

Where does Peter Barca live?