Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 8:34 am
WPRI on the web today:
Over on the mothership, I wrote a citizen’s guide to the new language of the Wisconsin public union protests. The dictionary has been remade:
“Democracy” – Traditionally described the process of people electing individuals to office, and those officials voting on their constituents’ behalf in the state legislature. Now refers to elected officials fleeing the state in order to avoid voting.
In order to test the veracity of this new definition, you are encouraged to sit on your couch all weekend with a sign that says “this is what mowing the lawn looks like.” If your wife agrees, she is likely in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda holding up a sign.
At the National Review Online, I ask whether the two weeks’ worth of protests have actually accomplished anything:
So it has been for 14 days, and now that capitol police have capitulated to the protesters and allowed them to stay past their February 27 deadline, there’s no end in sight. Drums banging, bagpipes squealing, voices being yelled hoarse — for two weeks, people from all over the country have slept, eaten, and protested nonstop in the stately Wisconsin capitol. Yet amid the sometimes frenzied demonstrations, one question is rarely asked:
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 3:17 pm
My latest column is up at the National Review Online. Since everyone claims that public sector collective bargaining is an inviolable “right,” I went back and looked at the circumstances of how the law passed in 1959 in the first place.
Nelson was always a supporter of public-employee unions — in 1946, his first job as a young attorney in Madison was working for a nascent labor organization known as AFSCME. Yet in today’s political world, such a nakedly obvious gift to a political constituency would crash Twitter. Nelson’s record of clean governing is the stuff of legend in Wisconsin — but public-sector collective bargaining clearly helped the fortunes of his Democratic party. To think he didn’t understand that is to insult the intelligence of a political legend.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 1:18 pm
Earlier today, I had a chance to talk with Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute to get his thoughts on the current events in Wisconsin. Just yesterday, Malanga wrote this article for the Wall Street Journal, called “The Showdown Over Public Union Power.”
Listen to the my discussion with Malanga here:
The news in Wisconsin, and increasingly the nation, focuses on the fight between Gov. Scott Walker and the public employee unions of our state. This issue has numerous facets, but this post fixates on just one: voluntary politics.
Judge Gary Sherman sits on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District Four . He previously represented Port Wing, Wisconsin in the State Assembly. Last week, he wrote a column on the Democracy in Action Blog entitled “Union Busting.” I will set aside questions about judicial propriety and politics and instead focus in on one substantive point from his column:
Another consequence is to move away from two-party democracy to a one party state. Large corporations were given a green light to take over politics by the U. S. Supreme Court in a case called Citizens United. While the Citizens United case also freed unions from limitations on political contributions, destroying the unions will eliminate that source of revenue from one party, leaving the other with all those corporate funds. We have fought against one-party states all over the world. The cold war was all about Russia and China being one-party states. As countries like Egypt move toward greater freedom, are we moving toward the kind of tyranny that so many of our soldiers died to protect us from?
Though the rhetoric in the final sentences is incredibly hyperbolic, there are two key flaws to the comparison between corporations for the GOP and unions for the Democrats.
First, unions give virtually exclusively to Democrats, whereas corporations (primarily through trade associations) have much more mixed giving. The National Association of Realtors, the top giving federal PAC in the 2009-2010 cycle, actually gave 56 % of its donations to Democrats that cycle. The next biggest trade association PAC, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, also gave 56 % of its 2009-2010 donations to Democrats. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which came under intense attack from the Obama White House and DNC as the GOP’s air war arm, ran ads for ten Blue Dog Democrats in very tight House races and endorsed Joe Manchin for US Senate in West Virginia. Trade associations often have an incumbent-preservation orientation – they donate both for access and for policy.
By contrast, unions are rigorously ideological in their giving, virtually lock-step in their support for Democrats. WEAC spent $1.6 million on state senate races in 2010, every dime supporting Democrats and attacking Republicans. National unions spent about $200 million supporting Democratic candidates nationwide in 2010. Almost half of that came from just one union – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The only time labor attacked Democrats was in primaries when some incumbent Dems didn’t toe the union line.
Second, there is a HUGE difference between voluntary contributions by business leaders and corporations and coerced union dues. The Chamber of Commerce and other trade associations have to go to member businesses and executives and convince them that donations are a wise use of funds, that the battles are important and the investments worthwhile. The public employee unions, by contrast, have mandatory membership and coerced dues withholding. The Wall Street Journal reports that “For Wisconsin teachers, union dues total between $700 and $1,000 a year.” Multiplied out over tens of thousands of unionized employees, that’s a huge amount of cash that is transferred directly from government treasury to union treasury without any real choice by the individual.
After the budget repair bill is enacted, then we’ll have a more equal playing field, because both sides will have to rely more on the voluntary contributions of their members.
Daniel R. Suhr is an attorney and public policy analyst. His legal articles have been published in the Georgetown Journal of Law & Public Policy, the Texas Review of Law & Politics, and the Wisconsin Lawyer.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 11:48 am
Today, I have a column on the National Review Online. It’s called “Of Course It’s About the Money:”
“We are prepared to implement the financial concessions proposed to help bring our state’s budget into balance, but we will not be denied our God-given right to join a real union. . . . We will not — I repeat we will not — be denied our rights to collectively bargain,” Beil said on February 18. Wisconsin was the first state in the U.S. to allow collective bargaining for public employees in 1959 (when, apparently, God deemed it a right.)
The protesters quickly picked up on Beil’s meme, and It’s not about the money! became a talking point among the teachers, students, firefighters, and bureaucrats lined up around Capitol Square. Walker, who needs to find $3.6 billion to close the state’s two-year budget deficit, had posited the issue as one of economics. The unions saw it as one of “rights.”
But to say these protests are merely about collective-bargaining rights is to say The Godfather is a movie about Italian food.
At ConservativeHome, WPRI president George Lightbourn says Scott Walker is bringing Wisconsin back to fiscal sanity:
Vince Lombardi, perhaps the most famous of all Wisconsin sons, ran his football team to reflect his own personality. He relished it when the opposition knew what play was coming and still they could not stop it. Lombardi teams were uncomplicated, determined and ultimately successful
Those same traits define Governor Scott Walker. He ran for governor on a simple platform that included restoring honest budgeting to state government, one that required cutting spending rather than increasing taxes or borrowing money. Those who do not know Scott Walker might have dismissed his plan as so much political chatter. They had no clue that this man actually meant what he said.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 10:36 am
Amid the union worker protests taking place at the Wisconsin State Capitol, demonstrators saw an odd sight on Monday. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart enlisted a camel for a report being filed by John Oliver – only it appears things went very wrong, as evidenced by these videos taken by Jack Craver from the Isthmus:
That’s Oliver at the end telling Craver to stop filming.
In a strange twist, when PETA shows up to start protesting The Daily Show, they may actually seem like the reasonable ones.
Filed under: Media — Christian Schneider @ 8:25 am
With history unfolding in Madison, Wisconsin over the past few days, I’ve written a number of articles describing the scene.
Here’s an op-ed I wrote for the New York Times giving a basic breakdown of the issue:
So far, Walker’s plans have been fiscally modest, but politically bold. Public employee unions will continue to protest, even though the governor is the first politician who has told them the truth in ages. If government workers continue to call his bluff, their protests will likely be much smaller in the future.
Here’s a column I wrote for the National Review Online discussing teachers’ use of their students in the protests:
In the meantime, the capitol was packed with thousands of government employees, many of whom had staged a “sleep-in” the night before. One sign-wielding protester approached a tie-wearing GOP staffer and sneered, “You must be a Republican.” He turned and asked, “Because I’m working?”
The raucous, drum-beating crowd was mostly made up of teachers, high-school kids, and University of Wisconsin students. On Thursday, school districts all over the state began canceling classes as their teachers called in sick en masse — government-employee strikes are illegal in Wisconsin — and teachers continued to bring their students to protest with them.
I wrote this column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that ran on Thursday:
Yet if you tell Democratic legislators that a vote against Walker’s plan is a vote to cut government jobs, they likely will look at you as if you just tried to stuff a live halibut into their mouths. They will tell you that there are many options available to balance the budget – options that are so popular, they enacted exactly zero of them in the last budget, when they had full control of state government. Their deficit-reduction plan consisted of hoping the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl, so people didn’t notice the giant hole in the state’s finances. (They got half their wish.)
In the Isthmus last week, I wrote about Wisconsin union leaders’ tendency to call people “whores.”
So, for the record, it appears Beil’s hierarchy of insults runs the gamut between “whore” (the worst), “prostitute” (not quite as bad) and “purveyor of the world’s oldest profession.” Yet some might even be tempted to include “paid union lobbyist” in their “pyramid of prostitution.” It’s a wonder Charlie Sheen hasn’t given Beil a call to go party in a hotel room.
And, of course, there are the updates I’ve written for WPRI – my column on Monday here and a blog post from last Friday here.
Stay tuned for more – should be more exciting developments to come. And we’ll be there.
Filed under: Courts — Christian Schneider @ 11:10 am
For years, so-called “good government” groups had been fighting to “level” the playing field in judicial elections. They always believed that public financing of elections virtually eliminated advantages for certain candidates. Last session, such a framework was passed into law. (Perhaps not-so-ironically, this occurred when conservatives were elected to a majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Democrats controlled the Legislature and Governorship.)
Liberals celebrated the new “fairness” in Court elections. In last week’s Isthmus newspaper (to which I contribute a column), editor Bill Lueders asked aloud whether this month’s Supreme Court primary was the “fairest election ever.”
That means the Feb. 15 primary will occur on a relatively level playing field, with each contender having roughly equal resources. (Whether this will hold true for the general election is unclear, as court challenges or the GOP Legislature could yet kill public financing.)
On Tuesday night, we saw the results of the “fairest election ever.” Incumbent Justice David Prosser dominated his opponents, receiving 55% of the vote in a four-way primary. Prosser will now face his closest challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, who received 25% of the vote, in the spring general election.
So why did Prosser win by such a large margin in a primary election in which spending was equal? Perhaps it was due to Wisconsin residents’ preference for conservatives on the Supreme Court. But it likely had a lot to do with Prosser’s status as an incumbent.
And this is how, as argued on this blog previously, public financing harms challengers. If spending is level, races will almost always favor the incumbent, as being in office had enormous advantages. Incumbents have name recognition, voter contacts, and a record on which to run.
In order to overcome that advantage, challengers often need to spend more money to get their message out. But when each candidate has only a $100,000 grant to spend, it is much more difficult to overcome the natural advantages of incumbency.
So while liberals may have thought the Supreme Court election was “fair,” it was anything but. The most equitable way to conduct elections is to allow fundraising that translates into increased political speech. Otherwise, voters will be inclined to support the guy they know.