Local governments to Walker: keep your tools
Secretary of State Doug LaFollette is waiting until the last possible moment to publish the “non-fiscal” budget repair bill rammed through by Governor Walker and the Fitzgerald Brothers last week. While we wait, there are cities, counties, school districts and transit systems running contract extensions through for approval before the guv’s union-busting bill takes effect. Asked about this on one of his nearly weekly closed-to-the-public state media market tours in Wausau Tuesday, Walker attributed it to union support of local officials in elections. You can watch the tape here: http://www.waow.com/Global/story.asp?S=14253609
Like a lot of things Walker says – redirecting federal high-speed rail money into Wisconsin road projects, bogus refinancing deadlines for him to kick the can down the road, etc. — it doesn’t hold up very well to even cursory examination. There could be no better example than Wausau, the place he chose to make the statement about why so many local governments are walking in the other direction on his still-waiting-to-be-published union-busting law.
Just as many other local governments in Wisconsin have done recently, the Wausau City Council passed a resolution opposing Walker’s budget repair bill and its heavy-handed stripping of most collective bargaining rights — what Walker euphemistically calls “tools.” Also like other communities, the city settled with its transit union. It was done in an effort to stave off the loss of federal funding for its bus system, which is a likely outcome under Walker’s poorly vetted legislation. The school district approved labor contracts, too.
The governor’s contention that these actions by local elected officials reflect campaign support by unions is pure fiction and it’s pretty insulting, too. Walker can talk about his own motivation in those terms and it matches up well with the ad blitz by his supporters, the millions they poured into his election and his comments to fake David Koch in the now infamous 20-minute phone call. There is ample evidence that Walker puts special interests and campaign donors well ahead of most Wisconsin citizens under the rationalization that what is good for his ideological soulmates is inherently good for everyone else in some trickle-down universe.
But school district representatives, county board members and city council members in this part of the world run what are known as exempt campaigns. What that means is that they agree to spend less than $1,000 annually on campaigning. For most of them, whatever they actually do spend comes directly out of their own pockets. They don’t hold fundraisers and if co-workers, friends or family members happen to throw in a few dollars, then that’s about the extent of it. In short, it’s not about power. It’s about service. These thankless, time-consuming and sometimes emotionally draining jobs pay around $100 a week or less.
Between the Wausau City Council and the Marathon County Board, I stood for a dozen elections beginning in 1998 and ending in 2010. I had opposition in most city council elections. Union support was scant or non-existent most of the time. Some unions endorsed my opponents in some years. I was never offered a nickel in contributions from a union and I don’t know that my opponents were either, even when they were endorsed. It’s just not the way those things are done around these parts, for those particular offices. It might be different in Milwaukee. It’s different for state and federal legislative races. It’s probably the case in Chicago and New York. But it’s not that way here.
Even though my formal support from unions was spotty to non-existent most of the time and even I had to sit on the opposite side of the table from time to time, I never felt that unions didn’t have a right to be there, unlike Scott Walker. In fact, I accepted it as an article of faith that they did and I still feel that way now.
Whether serving in schools districts, villages, towns, cities or counties, most local officials I know do their level best to be fair to taxpayers and employees alike. They try to strike a balance. That’s something that Governor “I’m-not-negotiating” Walker never made an attempt to do. If the legislation he foisted on local governments and school districts in Wisconsin wasn’t enough to prove it, then the reaction of those various bodies to his “tools” that most never asked for most certainly is. Monday, a leadership committee of the Waukesha County Board couldn’t agree to a resolution supporting Walker’s bill after it had passed. Seeing even a conservative bastion like that having issues with the state’s overreach on collective bargaining ought to tell people something.
Local officials around Wisconsin aren’t standing up for unions so much as simply standing up for what they think is right and refusing to buy in to something that they were never even consulted about. Contrary to Walker’s public pronouncements and the television ads supporting his reactionary views, this is not a case of public employee unions against everyone else. There just aren’t enough union members to create the negative numbers that the polls are showing and the downward spiral hasn’t stopped yet.
Scott McCallum tried a much more modest slap at local government during his short stint as governor and he paid for it by losing the office to Jim Doyle in the 2002 election. Local government officials are not the problem. They didn’t create the state deficit – not then and not now. Many don’t take kindly to laws that usurp their legitimate authority and force them to do the dirty work for a high-handed and increasingly unpopular governor who has no respect for local control or working relationships that have been built over many decades without any help from him. And he tells them if they have to lay off workers under his budget, then it’s their own fault for not using his tools (sort of like ‘Hey, I chained you to this machine gun so you could shoot your way out of this!’) No, Governor Walker, it’s your scheme and it’s your fault.