I try to keep politics out of the blog, mostly. But the current protests are occupying a big share of our attention here, and it would be weird to let it pass without comment. A huge amount has already been written — my own political stance carries no special weight and has in any case been ably explained by others who share it. So for the blog I’ll try to say a few things that I think are right, but which haven’t been tweeted and multiply retweeted.
- Lots of people are asking “Why did the protests happen and why was everyone so taken by surprise?” It’s not clear to me a better answer than “It’s not usually 50 degrees in February in Wisconsin” is needed.
- Where is Tommy Thompson? He is still, I think, the most popular Republican in the state. As governor, he negotiated with state unions, and he’s generally thought of as a moderate; on the other hand, he was the keynote speaker at a Tea Party rally last spring. If he supports the removal of collective bargaining for state employees, why isn’t he coming out and saying it? Why hasn’t anyone asked him?
- Underreported part of the story: the right to collective bargaining is guaranteed, by federal law, to every non-governmental employee in the state. The public employees are asking to play by the same rules as private employees, not special ones.
- Underreported part of the story 2: let’s suppose the Senate reaches a compromise: taxpayers in the public employ get a bigger chunk of the paycheck taken by the state, to offset their pension and healthcare costs, but they retain the same collective bargaining rights that private employees have. Unions claim victory for keeping bargaining, Senate R’s claim victory for trimming the budget. The D’s return from Rockford, the Senate passes a bill. But what about the Frankenveto? Let me emphasize for those not from Wisconsin that what I’m about to say is actually true: the Governor has the power to veto individual sentences and even words out of bills, thus enacting into law assertions entirely of the executive’s creation. (Until 1990, the Governor could veto individual letters and digits!) Scott Walker won’t hesitate to slice and dice what the legislature sends him until it says what he wants it to say — and it’s hard to imagine him paying much of a political price. Crazy as this is, it’s a Wisconsin tradition.
Do I have any idea what the result of this fracas will be, for workers in Wisconsin or for Scott Walker’s political future? I do not.