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Has Governor Scott Walker Lost the War With the Government Employee Labor Unions? Ho, Ho, Ho.

Gary North
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March 10, 2011

Forbes ran a column with this title: "Gov. Scott Walker Has Lost The War."

I have never heard of the author, Rick Ungar, a lawyer who lives in the People's Republic of Santa Monica, the land of Tom Hayden and rent controls.

He began with this breathless sentence: "In what may be the result of one of the great political miscalculations of our time, Scott Walker's popularity in his home state is fast going down the tubes."

Excuse me? One of the greatest political miscalculations of our time? In Wisconsin? By a first-term governor in his first weeks in office? A Republican who has been able to chase the entire Democrat contingent out of the state? A governor with almost four years ahead of him? A governor whose party controls the legislature whenever it has a quorum, which is not now, and who can veto bills for four more years? A man who ran on a Tea Party platform who now faces no new spending programs, which he can blame on the Democrats?

This is a defeat? May we have more such defeats!

A Rasmussen poll out today reveals that almost 60% of likely Wisconsin voters now disapprove of their aggressive governor's performance, with 48% strongly disapproving.

Four more years! Four more years!

While these numbers are clearly indicators of a strategy gone horribly wrong, there are some additional findings in the poll that I suspect deserve even greater attention.

If this strategy is horribly wrong, let us hope that we have lots more terribly wrong strategies, with a few disastrous strategies tossed in for good measure. The state legislature is shut down on all fiscal bills. Free at last! Free at last!

It turns out that the state's public school teachers are very popular with their fellow Badgers. With 77% of those polled holding a high opinion of their educators, it is not particularly surprising that only 32% among households with children in the public school system approve of the governor's performance. Sixty-seven percent (67%) disapprove, including 54% who strongly disapprove.

The voters have not yet been asked to pay for the teachers' retirement benefits. That day will come. When it does, a future state government will learn that voters say one thing when it costs them little. They say another when they are asked to pay.

Governor Walker is setting the stage for the Big Default. Someone has to throw down the gauntlet in advance of a fiscal catastrophe -- catastrophe for the state, I mean. The existing Wisconsin fiscal crisis of $3 billion is the tip of the iceberg. It will get much worse. This is good. It will cause voters to demand spending cuts. Retired union members will be the prime candidates. Union members with jobs on the line will consent to putting retired workers on the ice and letting them float into the sunset.

Can anyone imagine a politician succeeding with numbers like this among people who have kids?

Yes. Maybe not in 2014, but before the decade is over.

These numbers should be of great concern not only to Governor Walker but to governors everywhere who were planning to follow down the path of war with state employee unions. You can't take on the state worker unions without taking on the teachers -- and the teachers are more popular than Gov. Walker and his cohorts appear to realize.

Apparently a lawyer living in Santa Monica is a political expert, but governors in Ohio and Indiana are not. Neither is the governor of Kansas. Neither is the governor of Idaho. They do not see what a lawyer in Santa Monica sees.

The data should also weigh heavily on the minds of each and every Republican gearing up to run for president in 2012 as the actions of Governor Walker, Kasich and anyone else planning to enter this fight are bringing Christmas to the Obama re-election campaign as they return rank and file union members to where they once lived -- the Democratic Party.

The defection of union members to the Republican Party has been an important part of the electoral math for successful GOP candidates for many years now and a real thorn in the side for the democrats.

Is that so? Somehow, I don't perceive this to be the case. The number of Americans working in the private sector who are members of unions is under 7%. This is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2010, 7.6 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.1 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public sector workers (36.2 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers (6.9 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 42.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.

It is true that there are 7.6 million public sector union members, but they usually vote for Democrats and liberal Republicans. As swing voters, they are irrelevant. When you are in the hip pocket of a political party, as government employee unions are, you will be sat on.

This started a generation ago. The reduced tariff policies pursued by Kennedy in 1962 broke the unions' strangle hold on business. The Democrats had the votes to get these policies through Congress. Union members howled, to no avail. They now are marginal politically. History has passed them by.

In any case, these are weak swing voters. Where are private sector unions numerous? In Northeast rust belt states. They are losing population to right-to-work states in the Southwest and South. This has been going on for 50 years.

So, when it is a question of who has the swing votes in most states, the unions lose. They are in decline and have been since 1950.

Consider the re-election campaign of President George W. Bush where success came down to winning the vote in Northeastern Ohio.

I'm from Northeastern Ohio. I can tell you without hesitation that union flows through the blood of these people who spent so much of their lives in the steel mills (before they closed up) and are reminded each and every day of how well their union looked out for them. While a number of these people are retired and living on their pensions provided by their collective bargaining agreement, their kids -- many of whom do not hold union jobs- remain very appreciative of what the unions did for mom and dad.

The unions killed their jobs by raising wages above a market level. The businesses shut down. This is why rust-belt states rusted. Younger voters are not union members. They don't sing "Solidarity forever." This is why the governor in Ohio is pursuing an agenda close to Governor Walker's. The voters in whose blood the union flows are dying, or are retired, or have moved away, as our author did.

These strong, emotional attachments to the unions persist in many of the rust belt states where so many key presidential battlegrounds can be found.

He quoted no supporting evidence. I can understand why not.

While Governor Walker may yet succeed in getting his budget repair bill through the legislative process and accomplish his goal of reducing collective bargaining to a shell of its former self, the larger battle appears to already be lost. And while Walker -- still in the earliest stages of his term-may be able to recover over the next three and a half years, from a national perspective, I don't know that Walker's future makes any difference at all.

The damage has already been done.

The damage has indeed been done. Governors are taking hard-core stands against government employee unions that Reagan began with his busting of PATCO in 1981. This is not going to change. It is going to increase.

Should Gov. Walker accomplish his goal, he will have stoked a level of union anger that I very much suspect will become a key driver in an Obama victory in 2012. He will also have prompted the nation's unions to work together for a common objective -- a feat that would have seemed impossible just one month ago.

Anger without votes is irrelevant politically. Unions are irrelevant in the private sector. State deficits have undermined government employee unions' clout at the bargaining table. The deficits are the key, not memories of the 1950s. Solidarity isn't forever. It ends when taxpayers are called on to pony up more money to pay overpaid union members who are easily replaceable at 70% of their salaries and benefits.

If Walker loses his fight, he will have reminded the unions of the importance of fighting back against their enemies, reminding them of how life was for their forbearers who fought to establish the modern union movement. This will ignite the passion for battle while reminding those union folks who have been voting republican of the importance of sticking with the party that sticks with them.

This man is living in the past in two senses: ideologically and geographically. The United States of America is not Santa Monica.

The Wisconsin governor's desire to be at the forefront of his perceived GOP revolution may not only have doomed the anti-union effort, but it may forever label him as the man who gave the democrats the gift that keeps on giving -- the return of the union rank and file into the arms of the Democratic Party.

Walker started the fight early in his term. He will have almost four years to pursue this. The state's finances will continue to decline, as will the finances of most states. He will be able to blame the unions for the deficits. The political weakness of the trade union movement will soon be evident. They have vowed victory. If they don't pull off a lot of victories, they will self-destruct politically in full public view.

On March 9, the state Senate passed the governor's bill, 18 to 1. This will strip government employee unions of their bargaining advantage. The Democrats were gone, so the bill will become law. The quorum rule applies only to finances. This bill did not mention finances. The unions howled, "Unfair!" So what?

The Assembly will vote today. It is expected to pass. It will be signed into law.

The Democrats in the Senate are still outside the state, licking their wounds or maybe sucking their thumbs.

The Democrats must now work to overturn the law by electing a new legislature and then override Walker's veto. This will take years. It may take forever.

Conclusion: Wisconsin is not Santa Monica. Rick Ungar got it wrong. The unions are as good as busted. It's PATCO all over again.

Other governors are already on board the union-busting train. Walker set the pattern.

The return of the rank and file of union members to the Democrat Party, if it happens, will be mostly geezers with walkers. When you think "union" think "walker."

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