Thursday, February 17, 2011

Elections have consequences

Madison, Wisconsin, where I live, is the site of large and noisy demonstrations protesting legislation that would largely eliminate collective bargaining for state and local public employees. A few years ago I would have been in the middle of the protests. I was active in the teachers' union [several times its president] and genuinely believe in the importance of countervailing power. I think the governor's proposals go too far in limiting collective bargaining. Nor do many of them have anything to do with gaining control of the budget.

Nevertheless, the rhetoric is out of control. A few moments ago, listening to a recording of a hearing last night,  I heard a State Senator compare what is happening in Madison to the uprising in Cairo. The governor has been compared to Hitler and to Mussolini. And so on.... The lectures about civility and violent rhetoric we were all subjected to last month don't seem to have had much impact here.

Republicans in Wisconsin owe nothing to the public employee unions. Over the years that I was active in the state union it largely abandoned the practice of automatically endorsing any legislator, regardless of party, who supported their positions on a limited number of education and labor related issues. Instead it became a permanent adjunct of the Democratic party. That worked while Democrats were in power but it was perfectly predictable that at some point they wouldn't be. Every vote on this issue will be party-line. Once that would not have been true.

At the moment Democratic State Senators have absented themselves thus preventing the necessary quorum for action on bills affecting the budget. They may be able to leverage that absence into some compromise, but I doubt it. I suspect that the bill reported out of committee will pass  both houses, be signed, and become law. Elections have consequences. At one point during the debate leading up to the adoption of health reform our President reminded his defeated Republican opponent that he won.

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