The Liberal Ironist hasn’t given much time to the drive by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to all but de-unionize teachers in Wisconsin. This was mostly because I’m fascinated by the several evolving revolutionary efforts underway in the Middle East; but it was also partly because I expected the Democrats in the Senate, who fled the state to prevent the quorum that would allow the measure to come to a vote through the budget process, could out-wait the Republicans.
We’ll never know whether that was the case now, since Governor Walker and Wisconsin’s Republican legislative majority just steamrolled this unnecessary and punitive measure through, separating the measure from the budget and quickly voting on it as a bill. Having finally de-coupled their union-busting initiative from the budget legislation, Wisconsin’s Republicans symbolically shrugged off their pretenses of budgetary concerns to pass an unnecessary and radical measure on the basis of their simple majority. Now, Wisconsin’s teachers union can only engage in collective bargaining to secure cost-of-living adjustments for their salaries and benefits. This means they reserve the right to negotiate not to take automatic pay cuts through inflation–which, since that is the maximal position they can bargain for, they will.
We can safely say this measure isn’t really about Wisconsin’s budget deficit, as Governor Walker maintained, because as Ezra Klein compellingly put it in a recent blog entry for the Washington Post, Governor Walker passed revenue-negative business tax cuts while Wisconsin was already under fiscal duress, essentially forcing sacrifices from state employees in a striking show of faith in trickle-down economics.
Alright, I’ve given enough background; it’s time for what will definitely be the highlight of this post. Ian Murphy, a Liberal blogger for The Beast, took the extraordinary step of posing as billionaire energy company magnate and Tea Party financier David Koch, calling Governor Walker’s office and being rewarded for this bit of espionage with an utterly-surreal 20-minute phone conversation. Apparently seeing that the die was cast, Walker’s office dutifully confirmed that the recording is genuine. I initially didn’t make much of it, other than to note that Walker sounds like a real pollyanna of a Conservative; if you listen to it you notice that Walker rarely bites at Murphy’s very funny attempts to lead him into outrageous admissions. But a friend advised I take a closer look at the latter half of the phone conversation, and sure-enough, Walker truly does go off the reservation here.
Part 2 of one of the most-brazen acts of journalistic espionage I can think of. Most of the segments that condemn Walker are in the 2nd half; I’ve listed those I consider most-noteworthy below:
3:17-4:24: Walker asks fake-David Koch for soft money contributions to run ads both *during* the proceedings on the anti-union bill and for state legislators who supported him during their next election campaign.
4:21-5:21: Fake-David Koch suggests Walker hire people to slip into the crowd of demonstrating teachers to cause trouble. Walker says they considered that, but relented because he worried that if the troublemakers incited the protests to rowdiness, the public might pressure him to settle with the teachers. He didn’t express a sentiment that…you know, violence is bad.
7:48-8:45: Walker says he thought that President Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers “was the first crack in the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism.”
9:11-9:33 (the funniest, in my opinion): Fake-David Koch invites Walker out to California after he breaks the teachers’ union. Walker says “that would be great.”
On the basis of his admissions in this phone conversation Wisconsin Democrats are now filing ethics charges against Governor Walker. That sounds like a very easy case to make–but even while cheering our fake-David Koch on, I immediately want to add that Walker comes off as a decent man in this conversation. I believe the ethics charges being filed against him on the substance of this call are quite legitimate, and the reader will soon see how little the Liberal Ironist thinks Walker should continue to hold statewide office. That said, those of you who listen to this 20-minute phone conversation–and if this issue interests you, you should to listen to it carefully–will find that Murphy lays the C. Montgomery Burns act on thick, and invites Walker at many occasions to express cynicism about politics and Conservatism generally. Walker never bites, and he speaks on his own motion like a man who really thinks market forces will save this country, going so far as to compliment a moderate Democrat state senator thus: “He worked in the private sector, he made real money…” He really does seem to be motivated by a set of ideological principles, and I don’t think he realizes he has been caught in an act of official corruption.
Last night I spoke with a friend who asked if an attack on a Democratic constituency like the teachers’ union would alienate Republicans’ supporters among the police and firefighter unions; I expressed doubt that they would recognize a sense of common cause. I only then discovered that the Wisconsin Professional Police Association released a fact sheet expressing opposition to Scott Walker’s bill attacking the teacher’s union. Police are at least a Republican constituency relative to teachers, and many had remarked that this was the reason that they (and Wisconsin’s firefighters) had been excluded from Governor Walker’s attack on public employee unions. I’d been inclined to think they would sit out this fight, both in consideration of Wisconsin’s recent strong Republican trend and a sentiment that neither party had any inclination to attack their union. But I underestimated the WPPA in assuming that, and their fact sheet on Governor Walker’s proposal ends with a low-key but unmistakable call-to-arms:
“While the WPPA appreciates that law enforcement is exempted from the bill’s provisions, the WPPA opposes the bill on the basis of its union-busting measures. WPPA members are encouraged to contact their legislators to voice their concerns. Members can find their legislators their contact information by going to the following website: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/w3asp/waml/waml.aspx.”
So broken is any sense of fair play between Republicans and Democrats in the State of Wisconsin, and so strong is the sense of grievance among Wisconsin’s public employees that a recall of the governor has been proposed. Democratic former Congressman David Obey suggested this on Monday, before Republicans in the State Senate pulled their end-run. He added that “the governor still has some time to defuse this” by proposing a measure that didn’t seek to break the teachers’ union–but any political space for cooperation between Wisconsin’s Republicans and Democrats has now closed for the time being. Sarah Jones, a Liberal blogger in Wisconsin, notes that Governor Walker can’t be recalled until he has served a full year in office, but that there are probably more than enough signatures available to recall the 8 Republican State Senators currently eligible for it. A special election scheduled for the purpose of a recall is likely to favor recall, as a coherent constituency favoring recall is likely to turn out to support it. Furthermore, Republicans won’t necessarily turn out to defend Walker on this count; a recent New York Times poll has put to bed the assumption that there is popular support for breaking public employee unions; in reality a solid majority opposes this. The poll finds that Republicans are about evenly-divided on this, but that independents and Democrats are widely-opposed to it.
The attacks on public employee unions occurring in several states right now vary in their intensity, as do the fiscal and political environments in which they occur. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, a Republican, attacks public employees’ salaries and benefits in a state with a Democratic legislature that recently had a rough-45% budget deficit; in Wisconsin Scott Walker has a recently-elected Republican legislative majority and faces a budget shortfall largely because of hastily-passed business tax cuts. Late last week in Ohio, a bill that similarly strips the teachers’ union of many aspects of its collective bargaining power cleared the State Senate on its way to Republican Governor John Kasich’s desk; he has vowed to sign it.
Those whom are concerned about the future of public employee unions (and they really are the proper heirs to unionized labor generally) need a demonstration of their presence and power. Specifically, the message that these drives to disenfranchise state employees of collective bargaining rights are intolerable should be sent loud and clear. The Liberal Ironist thinks that issuing a recall of the 8 eligible Republican state senators as soon as possible is a good idea.
And right after his administration turns 1 year old, the people of Wisconsin should use their State’s surplus of democracy to say: “Yes, Mr. Walker, you only did what you thought was right. Duly noted. Now get out of there.”