Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A Recall -- Not a Re-Do

When I first saw Richard Foster's column in the Sunday paper, my liberal knee reflexively jerked.  So, the Journal Sentinel was running a column supporting its anti-recall campaign from a proclaimed liberal who used to write editorials for them.  What a surprise.

Usually, that's when I haul out my snarky anti-Journal Sentinel wisecracks; remind people that the paper endorsed Scott Walker for governor and has been covering for him ever since; pile on about how it's just like them to sneak behind supposed liberal skirts to hide the true Republican nature of their pro-Walker-by-default position; reminisce blissfully about the glory days of the Milwaukee Journal, when the newspaper took on issues great and small with grace and competitive writers, and Doonesbury ran in the Green Sheet and in color on Sunday...

All true -- but, not this time.  I want to give the ideas in Foster's column the respect they deserve, because the piece is an excellent expression of a sentiment us recall supporters will have to find a way to address.  I have a very dear friend who feels the same way.  Sure, we have a million signatures on our petitions.  But how do we reach the legitimate middle, who hates what Walker and the Republicans are doing and have done, but figure the whole thing is the product of a legitimate election in 2010 that we lost -- badly?  The side that loses the election is stuck with the results until next time, aren't they?

This is not an easy one to answer, but it can be done.  The answer lies in the radicalism of the Republicans in Madison; their drastic restructuring of state government; the seizure of control away from local governments; the dictatorial process used by ramming legislation through without a quorum, in the middle of the night, without regard to the rights of the minority (and, as we now know, with signed secrecy pacts to protect their illegal deliberations); Republicans taking their marching orders from right-wing think-tanks in Washington, rather than from their own Wisconsin hearts.  And, yes, the deliberate destruction of the historic and positive collective bargaining relationship between public employees and their employers.

We can't assume that everyone "gets it", this need for recall that has been so obvious to the rest of us since Walker, in his words, "dropped the bomb" exactly one year ago.  We have to make the case to those who should be with us -- to those who hate what the Republicans have done and are doing almost as much as we do but are not convinced a lost election allows a re-do.  What I hope they come to understand is that the recall movement is not an attempt at a re-do.  We need to convince some that the recalls are a legitimate response to the radical actions of legislators and a governor with an extreme agenda, the likes of which this state has never seen.

As much as I respect his overall concerns, Foster is off on at least one point.  The standard for recall under the Wisconsin constitution isn't anywhere near the "high crimes and misdemeanors" required to remove a president under the U.S. Constitution, and it shouldn't be.  Leaving aside for a moment that we may well get there with Walker, as the vultures circle the political operation he at least condoned in his county executive office, there are no such notorious prerequisites for recall under the Wisconsin Constitution.  The only thing required is one-fourth of the number voting in the last election to sign petitions indicating they want one.  Foster is right that recall should be "an extraordinarily rare and grave step". But he's wrong when he writes "You don't remove an officeholder before an election simply because you disagree with his or her official acts." Well, you can and you do.  It depends on the "acts".  Just ask Tom Ament.

In a way, Scott Walker is just the figurehead for a perfect storm that has led to disastrously bad governance.  He wouldn't be in the political predicament he is now if both houses of the legislature hadn't also flipped from Democratic control to an obedient cadre of similarly bought and schooled radical Republicans who were willing to rubber-stamp his drafted-in-Washington agenda.   Even with control of both houses of the legislature and the governor, the Republicans could have driven a moderately right-wing agenda without running roughshod over the loyal opposition like they were irrelevant gnats.

You'd expect them to do stupid things like concealed-carry, Photo ID, giving tax breaks to the rich, raising taxes on the poor, making it harder for regular people to sue the GOP's giant corporate constituents and try to make it easier for mining companies to dig 4-mile wide holes by weakening our historic environmental protections.  I mean -- they're Republicans -- bad government is what they are paid to be there for. But it's quite another thing to ramrod the most radical versions of all of that, plus everything in the right-wing handbook, as if Wisconsin were some kind of Laboratory for Bad Nut-Right Ideas.  Which is just how the right-wing Washington think-tanks thinks of us.

I was just thinking today when I was reading about the outrageous GOP secrecy agreements Republicans were required to sign to hide the true intentions of their hyper-political redistricting map -- Who ARE these people?? More to the point, who do they THINK they are?  Really -- trying to make a meeting of the legislature protected by attorney-client privilege? It's one thing to have control of the entire Capitol building -- it is quite another to swing that power like a bludgeon, without regard for or compromise with a large and legitimate minority in the legislature and an outraged majority in the rest of the state.

And then there is the end of local control on what have always been local issues.  Walker could have just taken collective bargaining rights away from state employees outright -- he alluded to doing that between the election and his inauguration.  But he did so much more than that.  He took away local control from every local unit of government -- including school boards -- by dictating that they can no longer engage in meaningful collective bargaining with their employees (the remaining "right" to bargain wages only, up to the rate of inflation, is a joke)  or allow their employees to have union dues deducted from their paychecks like the United Way, even if they ask for it.  Threatening the cut-off of state funding if they don't comply, the Heavy Hand of the State now limits the ability of schools to run referendums even if, as a community, the voters want to fund their schools better.

This goes far beyond what he had to do to get the health insurance and pension contributions he dictated. All Walker and the Republicans had to do is pass a law saying that pension and health insurance contributions were no longer subjects of collective bargaining for public employees.  There would have been a lot of noise, sure.  But what they did instead is use the desired health and pension changes as an excuse to destroy organizations that have done nothing but promote labor peace within public employment sector for the past 50 years, and their mostly positive relationship with the school boards and public employers they bargained with.  The only reason for this was to advance the national right-wing agenda to destroy public labor unions.  The decimation of the public unions does nothing to solve any fiscal problem -- it is all about power and destroying a perceived enemy of the Republican agenda.  Like so many of the actions of the radical Republicans in Madison, it had nothing to do with finances or good government and everything to do with a mad power grab.

As Wisconsin citizens, we don't have to put up with that kind of radical, unchecked governance for four years.  The recall process gives us the option, if we can meet the heavy burden of gathering 540,000 some-odd signatures (better -- we doubled it), we have the right -- no, the responsibility -- to try to stop the bleeding.  Some of what the Republicans are doing in Madison could have been predicted but so much of the worst stuff could not.  The first recalls last year have already served to moderate the Republican onslaught by carving the Republican margin in the Senate to one vote and making the senators now facing recall to think twice before rubber-stamping the rest of the right-wing agenda (see the hesitance of the Senate to approve the Assembly's attack on the environment in the mining bill).  In this year's recalls, the Senate will almost certainly flip -- and then the radical Republican revolution is over, whether Walker prevails or not.

This is the way it should work, I think.  The Madison Republicans have definitely gone too far in too many areas, and now Walker, Kleefish and the 4 senators will have to face the public in a recall election they brought on themselves.  Richard Foster and my good friend may continue to think that, as an electorate, we get what we deserve for what we let happen in 2010.  Elections have consequences, sure; but so do radical actions taken after the election.  I hope they and others come to believe that the extreme nature of the Republican agenda calls for an extreme remedy -- RECALL.

At least Foster admits that he's not going to go into the recall polling booth, hold his nose, and vote for Walker to survive, just on the general principle that there shouldn't be a recall in the first place.  He says he'll probably vote to recall him, if it comes to that -- and I think my friend will do that too.  We'll appreciate and count their votes.  But we really need their support.


Hey, we might even be doing Walker a favor.  If, with the ten of millions of dollars of out-of-state money he is going to be able to spend to lie his way out of this, he survives, the ridiculous Rebecca Kleefish almost certainly will not.  Sure, he'll have to deal with a Democrat as lieutenant governor, but at least he'll be rid of that albatross around his neck.  Maybe he'll even thank us later.


Anonymous said...

and for those who insist on a "high crimes and misdemeanors" standard for justifying a recall, i suggest close scrutiny of walker's testimony before congress. you might find something there when you compare it to his "drop the bomb" comment to the prank caller that may lead one to conclude that he lied under oath.

Rachael said...

I've been involved in the movement against the "bill" since last February when all hell broke loose. I don't regret one day or night my kids and I spent at the Capital for our rights. The anguish and frustration of the people of Wisconsin has culminated in the impending recall of Scott Walker. Wisconsin is made of better bones than the current majority of the administration.
We, the people of Wisconsin, deserve better representation.

Anonymous said...

If you're an employer(taxpayers) and you hire an employee(elected official) who appears to be the best of the applicant
pool(candidates).....but the employee does not execute their duties to the expected level or quality and behave in an unethical as an employer document...document...document and DISMISS and find a different employee....end of story.

Anonymous said...

Yes, elections have consequences. But, once elected, representatives - especially a Governor - are responsible for governing ALL the people; to broker coalitions between disparate interests and views. When they fail to do that, as the current crop of thugs in Madison has, the governed not only have the right, but a responsibility to recall them.

It's called democracy.

Anonymous said...

This is a well reasoned article and we definitely need to focus on the few left in the middle that will likely decide this election. One of the best ways to turn them off is to issue rigid, non-negotiable mandates just like the Republicans. Unfortuanetly that's just exactly what WEAC has done and Kathleen Falk has agreed too. If I'm in the middle am I going to vote against the incumbent because he says "it's my way or the highway"? Or am I going to vote against the challenger because she's promised that it's going to be "her way or the highway"?

Because of the unions penchant for self destruction this race has turned into exactly what the Republicans hoped for. Scott Walker vs. a union hack Madison Liberal. Understand I don't think that's what she is, but there's $70 million out there ready to paint her that way.

Anonymous said...

One other thing, yes Walker could have simply made retirement and health insurance prohibited subjects of bargaining and I think many expected that. What I thought was going to happen was that they were going to take arbitration completely away from the munis and teachers and turn MERA into SELRA.

What people never understood is that the State unions really had no leverage at the bargaining table. It's a hard lesson for any first time union negotiator to learn. It was for me. If you doubted that just look at the fact that HUGE protests in Madison did not make a difference at all. The State could have accomplished the same thing at the bargaining table by declaring impasse and imposing a contract. When the guy you're negotiating with makes the rules of the game and holds all the cards in the game it's not really "bargaining" so much as begging.

Anonymous said...

Recalls protect democracy:

patrick said...

KFalk has really pulled the scab off of the festering sore which is the recall. Her pledge to veto the budget if the special interest which is funding her campaign does not get paid is clearly an example of pay for play. Imagine how libs would have their undies in a bunch if Walker said something like this...

I'm sorry, too, for all those fools who were out in the cold, dreaming that MBell or the other union leaders gave a crap about them. For most teachers I knew, the money was the real issue because WEAC never really gave a crap about anything else. Not we see that all they want is to be able to stick their hands back into our pockets without our permission. Sad suckers...

Mike Plaisted said...

Ah, I have so missed your ignorant bullshit, patrick. Pay-to-play...what a joke.

Politicians don't have to be paid to know that a return to the status quo collective bargaining that worked just fine for all those years is a priority. Saying that they won't sign a budget without it is foolish, until we get the Assembly back.

In the meantime, the radical Republicans in the Assembly will stonewall more than just that. It will take decades to undo the damage done by this gang of thieves in the Capitol.

But, we'll do it eventually, not for the benefit of any "special interest", but for the good of the people of Wisconsin and the precious democracy your friends in the Republican goon squad have savaged beyond recognition.

patrick said...

Personal attacks aside, how do the people of wisconsin benefit from the return to the status quo in terms of collective bargaining? This is the question that Falk will need to answer, right? Also, how will teachers benefit if they are forced to "join" and "contribute?" I think these are fair questions.

And when one candidate pledges to veto the budget when her party does not, and is unlikely to, control the legislature--we know that either she will abandon the sick and poor she claims to care about, or she will abandon her pledge. That's integrity, right?

Lets assume I know you think I'm stupid, greedy, etc.. and that you think all republicans are wankers. Since you now style yourself the legal scholar of the wisconsin left, how about a response based on reason?

Anonymous said...

"...we'll do it eventually..."

Ohhhh, thank gawwwwdddd we have people like you, Mike, in all your glorious paternalism, your sheer generosity to show 'them poor rubes' the RIGHT way...

"...good of the people of Wisconsin..."
No, for the good of the FAVORED UNIONS. At least Falk actually admits it, embraces it, owns it. Unlike the rest of you pitiful little goons who couch the naked thievery of your pickpocketing greasy little palms in high-sounding language that almost, but never quite, convinces.

Mike Plaisted said...

Wisconsin has always benefited from the collective bargaining process, in terms of labor peace and the job security that has helped make our civil service professionals and teachers some of the best in the nation.

During the '90s, I helped organize and worked for and with WPEC, a union of over 3,500 professional state employees. There were none of the "union bosses" of the right-wing talking points -- the organization was completely membership-driven and I took direction and facilitated for them. They bargained in good faith with the Thompson administration, which often took a hard line, but important things got worked out. In the workplace, fairness and accountability was enforced through the contract. There was nothing wrong and a lot that was right about the way it worked -- for both sides.

As for "forced to join", no one is forced to join a union, regardless of how often the Big Lie to the contrary is repeated by you and others. However, those who benefit from the contract -- that is, everyone in the unit -- are required to contribute to the cost of bargaining and enforcing the contract they enjoy. That's why it is called "fair share". It is a majority of the regular dues, but not all of it.

Falk's promise to the unions to veto any budget that doesn't reverse Act 10 is as wrong as the unions asking for that promise in the first place. But, after we flip the governor and the Senate in the recalls, the Assembly Republicans are going to stonewall any return to sanity on all issues. They will be responsible for a stalemate in Madison that will rival anything caused by the radical right House Republicans in Washington. Then, in November 2012, we'll see whether Wisconsin wants to continue with the Koch-Republican jihad or move on to get the state back on its regular moderately progressive path.

I hope this response is fair and reasoned enough for you, patrick. Now go review your right-wing talking points and get back to me.

Anonymous said...

Mike, the problem with what you said is that with that idiotic promise there will be no flipping of the governorship. Maybe the Senate which will stop the hemorrhaging, but Walker will win again, because the unions just took a big issue away. Kathleen Falk whether she is or not can now be viewed as bought and paid for.

One thing Patrick got a little right is the disillusionment some union members have with the way the "leaders" handled things. I didn't see any real action or urgency from them (especially your old State Fed Mike) until it was THEIR money on the line. When it was just their members money on the line they were concerned but not very active. But when the auto collection of dues was threatened? Well I saw more action in a week from the paid professionals than I saw in 10+ years of involvement and it made me sick.

Unions are important. They are needed. But what they have morphed into over the decades was something of a pyramid scheme. I am hopeful that what's going on around the country will return them to a service model where it's much more about the locals and serving their members. Not helping them serve themselves, but actually serving them.

Mike Plaisted said...

Bill, er, William:

I am not assuming, at ALL, that Falk is going to be the nominee, especially after this "promise", which, I agree, is idiotic. This whole thing makes Tom Barrett a much better choice, and he will look even more independent (because he is). Walker will still try to buy his survival with out-of-state money. But we have a better shot than you think, especially as Chisholm's team circles that dumpster behind the courthouse. I am going to post about this soon.

As for the unions not getting going until after the dues deductions were threatened, you are just wrong about that. The union dues deduction prohibition (unlike all other voluntary organizations -- would love to hear your thoughts about the equal protection argument) was part of the "bomb" dropped by Walker a year ago -- it wasn't dropped in later. The unions' membership and leadership were all threatened together -- without meaningful bargaining rights, what union in its right mind would recertify (and many didn't). Dues deductions are meaningless if there is nothing to pay dues for. Many (most?) are still paying voluntarily because they support the unions' fight to restore their rights.

The notion that there are these union "bosses" who are looking down on their membership with disdain and their hands out is ridiculous. All of the unions affected have suffered major staff layoffs. Everyone -- including Mary Bell and Marty Beil -- are taking an enormous hit.

Would their organizations benefit by a return to the status quo? Certainly. But their members will benefit much more by a restoration of their rights and their job security. To act like what is good for the union as an organization is not good for their membership is just wrong. The unions -- especially in Wisconsin -- exist primarily for the benefit AND AT THE DIRECTION of their membership.

patrick said...

Mike: Thanks for the response. I was a union "member" for thirteen years, and never in that time did I feel that the "leadership" was ever concerned with my opinions or my situation. Anything that was done "for" teachers in my district was done by the local with little or no help from WEAC.

I was constantly told when I had some concern with "leadership" that WEAC was "all of us." But what they were really saying was "wait your turn." This was an organization where some members were crtainly more equal than others. I was also constantly told that my "fair share" or "dues" were put to good use, but nobody could ever explain how I ever got out what I put in--or what even became of the money one way or another. I was always reminded of some legacy to the past that was a debt I could never pay off.

So this year they came to my door, and I told them I would not sign their paper because the union had no place for conservative teachers though the union was "all of us." They told me how the union was "very interested" in reaching out to conservative teachers, but they must be doing it very, very quietly. The also told me dues were going up. So for now I'll wait for WEAC to demonstrate that they can do something concrete for me, and I'll enjoy the fact that Walker has paid my "debt" to the past and given teachers our American choice.

Mike Plaisted said...


"Anything that was done 'for' teachers in my district was done by the local with little or no help from WEAC."

I doubt that very much. At the very least, every WEAC local has the benefit of a full-time staff representative who facilitates the bargaining of contracts, represents members on grievance and discipline issues, etc. I'm sure you didn't mind the pay grid and raises based on experience and levels of education they bargained for you and that you can now kiss good-bye, thanks to your wonderful governor. Also, good luck in the future if you ever have a disciplinary or work assignment issue -- you are on your own.

As a result of Walker's union-busting program, WEAC has now laid off 50% of the workforce that works for your benefit every day.

"I was also constantly told that my "fair share" or "dues" were put to good use, but nobody could ever explain how I ever got out what I put in--or what even became of the money one way or another."

Every union submits to regular audits to establish the "fair share" portion of its dues. It's all out there for members to review any time you want. I don't think you ever really asked for an explanation -- if you did, it was readily available.

I'm not sure what concerns you had -- much less expressed -- about the leadership of WEAC, which is democratically elected. If you remain a member (doubtful) and you can come up with a majority of members to proceed with an anti-union agenda, you can do that by electing an anti-union board and president. It's not like people haven't taken over institutions to destroy them before -- look at anti-government Republican running governments.

More likely, all you want to do it bitch about it without really asking and without getting involved to try to change whatever your issues are with how the union operates. In the meantime, as a non-payer and non-member, you will continue to freeload, getting the benefit of past bargaining and any we are able to reestablish in the future, throughout your career.