So much for Scott Walker’s no compromise on union busting. Recently released e-mails in the possession of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show that Walker is beginning to crack as plummeting poll numbers and a growing sense of buyers remorse sets in around the state of Wisconsin. While Walker has been publically stating that the Democrats have refused to negotiate in good faith, Walkers lieutenants have been meeting with Democratic lawmakers as per the Journal Sentinel: “The e-mails showed ideas and counteroffers made by the Republican governor’s aides and two Democrats as they sought some resolution that would allow Democrats to come back to the state…The two Democratic senators, Bob Jauch of Poplar and Tim Cullen of Janesville, have met face-to-face in recent days with both Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Walker aides.”
An examination of what’s in the e-mails reveals just how much Walker has stepped back from his earlier extremist position. To wit:
• The bill would no longer seek to limit public employee union bargaining over wages to the rate of inflation.
• The bill would allow union bargaining over certain economic issues, including mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay, and classroom size. On this set of issues, both labor and management would have to agree to discuss them for bargaining to happen.
• The bill would allow bargaining over workplace safety but that would be limited to workers’ physical health and safety. It would not allow bargaining over hours, overtime, sick leave or family leave, work schedules or vacation.
• Union contracts for public employees would be limited to a one- or two-year period.
• Unions would have to vote every three years to remain active, with the first of those votes coming within one year of the bill becoming law. The current version of the bill would require unions to vote to recertify every year and require them to get at least 51% of workers’ votes.
• Employees of the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority would not lose all union bargaining rights.
• The Legislature’s budget committee would explicitly have to approve changes to state health programs for the poor sought by the Walker administration. The budget-repair bill gives Walker broad powers to reshape those Medicaid health programs.
While Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald claimed that Republicans were still firmly behind Walker and that the above mentioned changes amount to discussions and not negotiations, several moderate Republicans are showing signs of wavering. One senator rumored to be wavering on the bill was State Senator Dan Kapanke, who later tried to downplay the idea that he was not fully onboard. Meanwhile State Senator Robert Cowles said that compromise was needed and State Senator Luther Olsen came out publicly and said: ” You’ve got to compromise.” It’s been suggested that five or six State Senators never fully supported Walker’s bill but went along with it as they thought it was destined for a quick passage and when that did not occur, they began to falter. Thus in spite of the Republican State Senate’s leadership claims to the contrary, Wisconsin’s Republican State Senatorial Caucus shows signs of fracturing along with their Governor.
Beyond being stymied in the confines of the Statehouse, Walker can’t be all that cheered up when perusing the mounting pile of public opinion polls that are trending against him. A Wisconsin Public Research Institute poll showed 53 percent of respondents either strongly disapprove or disapprove of the way Walker is handling his job as Governor. A similar number of respondents held unfavorable views of Walker overall. Likewise majorities polled showed favorable feelings towards public sector unions. Ezra Klein just published an article that summarizes findings from both the latest N.Y. Times / CBS; Pew Research and Public Policy Polling, none of which are good news for Walker. To summarize: “According to a new NYT/CBS poll, a third of Americans view them [unions] favorably, a quarter of Americans view them unfavorably, and the rest are undecided. But are efforts to attack unions popular? Not at all. The same poll showed Americans opposed weakening the bargaining rights of union members by an almost two-to-one margin. Nor does the public like the idea of cutting the pay or benefits of union employees to balance budgets: 56 percent opposed that strategy, while 37 percent supported it…Only 26 percent of Americans think public employees are overpaid. Another 37 percent think their pay is about right, and a further 25 percent think their pay is too low… And that’s not an isolated survey. A Pew poll released yesterday found the unions winning over the public in Wisconsin — they led Walker by 11 points.” These polls and others are in line with earlier polls that suggested Walker’s popularity was already sagging and that a majority of Americans oppose efforts to weaken collective bargaining rights by a margin of 60 percent to 33 percent.
But worse still for Scott Walker is the very real manifestation of buyer’s remorse now felt among the very people who put him in office. According to the latest from Public Policy Polling:”if voters in the state could do it over today they’d support defeated Democratic nominee Tom Barrett over Scott Walker by a a 52-45 margin…It’s actually Republicans, more so than Democrats or independents, whose shifting away from Walker would allow Barrett to win a rematch if there was one today. Only 3% of the Republicans we surveyed said they voted for Barrett last fall but now 10% say they would if they could do it over again. That’s an instance of Republican union voters who might have voted for the GOP based on social issues or something else last fall trending back toward Democrats because they’re putting pocketbook concerns back at the forefront and see their party as at odds with them on those because of what’s happened in the last month.” Now I know many of my good friends on the far right will crow that with all of this “liberal” polling what would you expect, however, the most ironic finding comes from the arch conservative organization Rasmussen which even with it’s conservative bias, had to report the bad news on Walker. Rusmussen showed: ”Overall, including those who somewhat approve or disapprove, the new Republican governor earns positive reviews from 43% and negative reviews from 57% of voters statewide.” Political commentator, John Nichols of The Nation said that Walker had effectively turned Wisconsin’s Reagan Democrats against the Republican Party, something that doesn’t bode well for future elections. So there you have it, when even a polling company like Rasmussen, that has a track record of being slanted to the right, can’t paper over the facts, there is no way that Walker can’t take notice. After all you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing and presently the wind is blowing in a direction and with a force that’s unfavorable for Walker and his anti-union consort, both local and national. Are you listening Charlie and Dave Koch?
Walker is now a man in a vise. On one side he is being egged on by the far right in this country who would like to turn the clock back to the Nineteenth Century and allow Seventeenth Century economic and political ideas to flourish once again, and more moderate elements within the state of Wisconsin who have obviously not bought into the Tea Party Movement, the Koch Brother’s playbook or political extremism. Walker is effectively being egged onto to his own political self destruction by people who have shoved him forth as their champion even though he may end up a sacrificial lamb in the bargain. As I write this post there is a growing recall campaign underway in Wisconsin that will effect both Democrats and Republicans. Walker himself will be subject to a recall if voters decide that’s what’s best after one year in office. MSNBC’s Ed Shultz said that “Walker is playing a career ending chip” in his battle with the unions. That remains to be seen but with a recall hanging over his head, Walker may go down in history as having had one of America’s shortest gubernatorial tenures, ultimately being undone by his penchant for political extremism, something decidedly un-American as it turns out.
Steven J. Gulitti
E-mails reveal possible Walker concessions on union bill
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/117584003.html
Wisconsin Study: WPRI: http://www.wpri.org/polls/March2011/ToplinesWPRIFebMar%202011.pdf
Unions polling well, Scott Walker polling poorly; http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2011/03/unions_polling_well_scott_walk.html
Public Policy Polling; http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2011/02/do-over.html
Wisconsin Governor Walker: 43% Approval Rating; http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_state_surveys/wisconsin/wisconsin_governor_walker_43_approval_rating