Nowadays, the state of Wisconsin alone evokes images of civil strife. If you watch MSNBC, you’ll immediately picture a tyrannical right-wing nutcase bullying innocent workers. Yet the situation on the ground is far more complex.
It all started when Democratic Governor Jim Doyle announced his retirement. Labor bosses tirelessly lamented the loss of their buddy in power. Scott Walker, the Milwaukee county executive, then ran as the GOP candidate to replace Doyle, actively campaigning on the platform that fiscal responsibility necessitates shared sacrifice, particularly from organized labor. The citizens of Wisconsin, in free and fair elections, chose Walker as their leader for the next four years. Walker then took office and began implementing the reform measures that had been an open part of his campaign. Then a couple of weeks ago, all hell broke loose.
Walker’s victory last November was bittersweet. At the same time that he commanded a democratic mandate, he inherited a state rife with fiscal uncertainty and perils. Wisconsin faced a daunting $3.6 billion budget shortfall. The biggest cause of this: the stranglehold of public employee unions on state government. Walker’s plan was simple: state workers should contribute a modest 5.8 percent of their income toward pensions and 12.6 percent toward health insurance. These figures reflect national averages and would save Walker and the legislature the frightening alternative of having to lay off thousands of state workers.
The element of Walker’s proposal that has been by far the most controversial should actually not be. Half of all states already ban or restrict collective bargaining by public employee unions; Walker merely wanted Wisconsin to join them. Public employee unions, in Wisconsin and nationwide, have grown into untamed monstrosities, demanding high dues from their members, shirking accountability to the state government and those they supposedly represent, driving up budget deficits and forcing politicians’ hands with irresponsible contracts.
The challenge here is to differentiate between state employees — decent, hardworking people — and the unions — entrenched bureaucratic fiefdoms of labor bosses. There is no better example of this difference than teachers’ unions. Teachers are noble and heroic people and great teachers deserve compensation in line with the doctors and lawyers of this country. Yet teachers’ unions are the single biggest impediment toward children achieving a quality education; they protect bad teachers with undeserved tenure, they block real educational reforms, they shoot down merit pay and they act less mature than the children whose interests they claim to champion. If it weren’t so disgusting, we’d laugh over the fact that Wisconsin teachers took the time to march on the state capital for the sake of the children, and in doing so, abandoned those very children.
To truly rein in state government, Walker acted upon his electoral mandate and fulfilled his campaign promise to tame the unions. The legislature, controlled by Republicans, needed to sign off. Yet the state Senate required 20 members for quorum and only contained 19 Republicans. The 14 Democrat state senators fled to Illinois to prevent a vote from being forced. As long as they hide out, the wheels of state government are brought to a screeching halt.
The behavior of these Democrats is stunning. They are feckless cowards: Their disrespect for the institutions of democracy shames their party. Elections have consequences. If you lose, you pick up your marbles and try again next time. What has happened to the notion of a loyal opposition in this country? Sadly, we have reached the point where supposed public servants are waiting to be frogmarched into doing their duty by state troopers.
If the price of putting Wisconsin back on a path of fiscal responsibility is this asinine behavior by unions and Democrats, then so be it. Keep up the fight, Scott Walker; Wisconsinites can no longer afford the gluttony and abuse of public employee unions.
Sam Dulik is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at[email protected]. QUORUM CALL appears every other Friday.
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