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Dispatches From Madison‏

5:16 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

A funny thing may in fact have happened in the course of attempting to bust public sector unions in Wisconsin. Lets take a look:
 
1.) It’s now seen to be more then blatantly fraudulent on the part of Scott Walker to make the claim that his efforts to strip away collective bargaining rights were solely motivated by fiscal reasons. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald appearing on Fox News revealed that the motives were largely political. To wit: “In an interview with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly moments ago, State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI), one of Walker’s closest allies in the legislature, confirmed the true political motive of Walker’s anti-union push. Fitzgerald explained that “this battle” is about eliminating unions so that “the money is not there” for the labor movement. Specifically, he said that the destruction of unions will make it “much more difficult” for President Obama to win reelection in Wisconsin. In Fitzgerald’s own words: ”If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much difficult, much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.“Scott Fitzgerald publicly admits that the purpose of killing unions is fully political”; http://solidaritywisconsin.com/content/scott-fitzgerald-publicly-admits-purpose-killing-unions-fully-political   See also : WI Senate GOP Leader Admits On-Air That His Goal Is To Defund Labor Unions, Hurt Obama’s Reelection Chances; http://thinkprogress.org/2011/03/09/scott-fitzgerald-obama/ 

Quoting political commentators Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel “It was also a 180-degree reversal by Walker and state Senate Republicans, who have insisted for the past three weeks that the collective bargaining provision was designed to help alleviate the state’s budget problems. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) had previously said he would not attempt to pass any portions of the bill without Democrats present.” Wisconsin GOP Senators Pass Stand-Alone Anti-Union Bill Without Democrats Present; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/09/wisconsin-gop-plan-advance-anti-union_n_833796.html   Thus the legislation was separated from the budget measure on Wednesday to break a three-week stalemate created when the Democratic senators all went to Illinois to deny the chamber the 20-member quorum required to take up bills that appropriate funds. As it has now been shown, the anti-union element of the Walker effort never had anything to do with fiscal matters after all, it was all an elaborate subterfuge. ”Wisconsin Assembly Approves Bargaining Curbs” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/us/11wisconsin.html?emc=eta1

2.) Legal challenges are underway and could possibly stymie Walker in the short term. To wit: “Dane County officials have directed county attorneys to take legal action over the state Senate’s passage of a bill taking away collective bargaining rights from public workers. Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk said Thursday that state officials don’t get to choose which laws they’ll follow and when.”  ”Hold on: Republican Senators Broke the Law on Turf of Kathleen Falk”  http://bluecheddar.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/hold-on-republican-senators-broke-the-law-on-turf-of-kathleen-falk/ Moreover: “Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, filed a complaint Thursday morning with the Dane County district attorney charging that the Joint Conference Committee that convened at 6 p.m. Wednesday and passed an amended version of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill is in violation of the open meetings law. The complaint states that Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and his brother, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and others “knowingly attended the meeting in violation of the Open Meetings law” and are subject to penalties identified in state statute. The complaint asks that the actions taken at the meeting be declared void.” “Officials file complaints with DA and AG on controversial Capitol vote”; http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_edd8ffae-4b3f-11e0-9f0f-001cc4c03286.html Appearing on tonight’s News Hour on PBS, Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin Public Television said that as of this afternoon, Wisconsin unions are planning to file suit against last night’s rushed through bill on the basis of labor law violations. Freyberg also said, that the bill could be challenged on the basis of terminology as well.

3) Recall efforts are well underway and gaining steam. Recall efforts have actually been underway since before last nights “Ash Wednesday Ambush.” Wisconsin Voters Launch Recall Campaign Against Eight GOP State Senators; http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=102×4754076. The particulars of what can be done in the near term are as follows: “Because the recall statute allows elected officials to serve for a full year before they are subject to recall, Walker himself is immune until January of 2012. Eight of Walker’s Republican allies in the state senate have served at least one year of their current term, however, and thus are eligible for a recall petition right now. If just three of these Republicans were to be replaced with Democrats, the state senate would flip to a Democratic-majority body.” Eight GOP State Senators In Wisconsin Can Be Recalled Right Now; Gov. Walker Can Be Recalled In January; http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=103×588854 A Wisconsin Democrat appearing on tonight’s Newshour claimed that the Democrats may already have enough signatures to trigger the recall process. See also: Early Recall Polling Shows Strong Opposition to Republican 8 Senators http://solidaritywisconsin.com/content/early-recall-polling-shows-strong-opposition-republican-8-senators and: Poll: Majorities support recall of two Wisconsin GOP senatorshttp://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2011/03/poll_majorities_support_recall.html

At this point one could truly say the Scott Walker and the far right have appeared to have won a battle, perhaps if only in a qualified sense. However, the wider war between pro-union progressives and the Tea Party backed far right may just be getting underway. That war may in fact be short lived, in Wisconsin, if the recall of the state’s Republican state senators take place in the very near future. If a recall is successful, it’s a whole new ball game as Scott Walker and his allies will then be at a strategic disadvantage. One can only wonder if the battles now being waged in Wisconsin constitute the high water mark of right wing political extremism, or does the lurch to the right have further to go before the self correcting forces of America’s centrist politics reasserts itself.

Steven J. Gulitti

3/10/11

Scott Walker’s Faltering Anti-Union Effort

8:59 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

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
3/9/11
 
 
 
Sources:
 
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
 

Majority in Poll Back Employees in Public Sector Unions; http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/us/01poll.html?emc=eta1

 
Wisconsin Governor Walker: 43% Approval Rating; http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_state_surveys/wisconsin/wisconsin_governor_walker_43_approval_rating

Scott Walker, Conservative Hero Propped Up By the Koch Brothers

7:21 pm in Uncategorized by SJGulitti

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has been heralded by some as a conservative hero, a man of the grass roots if you will, who is attempting to bring order to the financial woes of the state by crushing the public employee unions. The Governor may have overreached in this effort and there is now some solid evidence that Walker may be dancing to a tune, coming in part, from the Koch Brothers. Do the financial titans who have so heavily bankrolled the Tea Party Movement have a finger or two in this epic battle now underway in Madison? The answer to that question can only be yes. 

Now to be fair to Walker, his anti-union attitudes go back to his days on the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, thus nothing has changed. Quoting Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson: “Unions have always been his piñata, over and over…And this time I think he’s trying to out-right-wing the right wing on his way to the next lily pad.” However, those initiatives go beyond economics and that leads one to believe that Walker is as much interested in crushing public sector unions as he is in balancing the budget. With Wisconsin’s public unions having agreed to compromise with Walker on economic concerns, his continued obstinacy on issues of union security and non-wage bargaining can only be seen for what they are, a blatant attempt to destroy the rights of Wisconsin’s citizens to join and participate in public employee unions. According to Mary Bell, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council: “We have been clear — and I will restate this again today — money issues are off the table…Public employees have agreed to Governor Walker’s pension and health care concessions, which he says will solve the budget challenge.”

Specifically: “Mr. Walker’s plan would require government workers to put 5.8 percent of their pay into their pensions (most pay less than 1 percent now), and would require them to pay at least 12.6 percent of health care premiums (most pay about 6 percent now). Union leaders said they would go along with those plans, but they wanted to remove provisions that would prohibit collective bargaining for issues beyond wages, limit pay raises to a certain level without special approval by public referendum and require unions to hold annual votes on whether they should remain in existence.” This begs the question: “If Walker is solely concerned with the effects of public unionization on his state’s deficit and the unions have met him more than halfway, why won’t he declare victory and move on to the next big issue?” The fact that Walker is insisting on having his way on issues beyond economics is proof positive of his deep-seated anti-union animus. Walker has denied harboring any political motives in his standoff with the unions. “But in an interview with The Associated Press last week as protests raged inside the Capitol, he acknowledged his plan to allow workers to opt out of paying their dues could cripple unions…”

Here is where the influence of the Koch brothers comes into play. According to the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel: “While there has been significant attention devoted to the fact that Walker’s 144-page budget repair bill would strip away collective bargaining rights for public employees, the site “Rortybomb” points out a less noticed provision that would allow the state to sell or contract out any state-owned energy asset in no-bid deals with private corporations. But if this deal goes through, one of the companies that could stand to benefit significantly is Koch Industries. Koch already has several companies in the state, including a coal subsidiary, timber plants and a large network of pipelines.” Thus the brothers Koch have an economic stake in Wisconsin, above and beyond their political agenda.

The Koch brothers had invested heavily in the 2010 elections having donated $2 Million dollars to conservative candidates directly and now they are looking to cash in on that investment. They have fueled up the coffers of  Americans for Prosperity so that it could influence a wide range of issues. According to Eric Lipton, reporter for the New York Times: “The organization has taken up a range of topics, including combating the health care law, environmental regulations and spending by state and federal governments. The effort to impose limits on public labor unions has been a particular focus in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all states with Republican governors, Mr. Phillips said, adding that he expects new proposals to emerge soon in some of those states to limit union power.” 

During the 2010 election cycle, according to Amanda Terkel, “Walker received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC, his second-largest contribution. The PAC also gave significantly to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn helped out Walker considerably in his race. Koch also contributed $6,500 to support 16 Republican legislative candidates in the state…The Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity has also been standing with Walker throughout his budget battles, busing in Tea Party activists and launching the site, Stand With Walker. After the election, Walker and other Republican governors received guidance from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that is also funded by Koch dollars and has pushed anti-union measures.”

Thus it should come as no surprise that Tim Phillips, President of Americans for Prosperity was in Madison this past weekend attempting to rally support for Scott Walker’s besieged administration. As it turns out Phillips’ organization is a major recipient of the financial largesse of David and Charles Koch, having received $40 Million dollars from the brothers last year. That’s close to a sixfold increase over the budget that Americans for Prosperity had just three years ago. According to Eric Lipton, reporter for the New York Times, the Koch brothers laid their groundwork in Wisconsin long before the first protestor held up a sign in Madison. To wit: “Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday…We thought it was important to do… adding that his group is already working with activists and state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to take similar steps to curtail union benefits or give public employees the power to opt out of unions entirely.” From the aforementioned, it is more than obvious that the Koch brothers and their fellow travelers have an agenda that goes far beyond the bottom line of state budgets and aims at the very institutional integrity of unions, as we know them. Why else would they be concerned with issues such as an employee being able to opt out of their membership or the desire to force a showdown?

The motives of the Koch brothers are more than amply clear as is the actions taken on their behalf by their operatives, both elected and paid, now at work in Wisconsin and across the Midwest. Their can be no denying that the Koch brothers have a political agenda designed to reshape the American economic landscape into one in which unions no longer exist. When one considers the money invested and the macro-political issues that transcend the mundane economics of state budgets, one can only wonder once again about to what degree the Tea Party Movement and it’s followers have been had by the political pros who have received a greatly enhanced degree of power and influence as a result of the 2010 elections and the money they invested therein.

Steven J. Gulitti

2/23/2011

Sources:

For Wisconsin Governor, Battle Was Long Coming

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/us/politics/20walker.html?emc=eta1

Protesters in Wisconsin Say They Are Staying Put

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/us/21wisconsin.html?emc=eta1

Wisconsin plan to weaken public unions could help Republicans solidify power for years to come

http://www.startribune.com/local/116611768.html
The Less Discussed Part of Walker’s Wisconsin Plan: No-Bid Energy Assets Firesales.

http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/the-less-discussed-part-of-walkers-wisconsin-plan-no-bid-energy-assets-firesales/#comment-14041

Billionaire Brothers’ Money Plays Role in Wisconsin Dispute

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/us/22koch.html?emc=eta1

 Koch Brothers Money Fuels Wisconsin Fight Against Unions

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/22/koch-brothers-money-wisconsin_n_826423.html

Wisconsin Budget Battle Continues, GOP Legislators Forge Ahead

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/22/wisconsin-budget-battle-c_n_826478.html#113_littlenoticed-provision-in-walkers-bill-could-reap-huge-gains-for-koch-industries