Governor Walker, Meet Governor Wilson

Like California’s Pete Wilson in 1994, Scott Walker may never recover from his great victory.

Although Scott Walker’s and the Wisconsin Senate Republicans’ move to erase collective bargaining rights is typical of the GOP’s automatic intellectual dishonesty, I must say I have some respect for it.  Rules matter, and rules are important, but so is policy.  The GOP is committed to crushing unions; indeed, advancing plutocracy is basically the heart of its agenda.  I wish that Democrats could be one-half as ruthless in pushing an agenda to help American workers.

But that doesn’t mean that it will work politically over the long run.

This is the sort of thing that might win a battle but lose a war.  It is so transparently ruthless that it could enrage the opposition in a way that takes the battle to an entirely new level.

It reminds me somewhat of then-Governor Pete Wilson’s transparently ruthless attempt to demonize the undocumented — which as a practical matter meant demonizing Latinos — in 1994.  It certainly helped him get re-elected as Governor that year after it looked hopeless, although in retrospect he would have won anyway in a very good Republican year.  But it helped to destroy California’s GOP.  It drove away a growing Latino plurality from Republicans, perhaps for a generation or more.

I suppose that Walker and the Republicans are thinking that they will take their lumps now, raise millions from American Crossroads and the Kochs, survive enough recalls to keep their majority, and let the thing blow over.  But will this blow over?  Or will it so energize Wisconsin workers that the Reagan Democrat will essentially become extinct?  And if so, will that be enough?

There are a lot more Latinos in California than union members in Wisconsin.  That must be what smart Wisconsin GOP strategists are counting on.  But Scott Walker might want to look at his recent California history pretty soon.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

22 thoughts on “Governor Walker, Meet Governor Wilson”

  1. Yep.

    The GOP just lost WI for the next few elections, and I think there is a new union beachhead.

    California, uber alles,
    California uber alles!

    This isn’t, actually, good, when Jello Biafra predicts the future so well. But these are modern politics.

    There are other punk songs, more from England, that describe the dynamic well, too. London Calling is an album I think the GOP should have a listen to, as one example.

  2. One hopes.

    I rather suspect the robber baron Jay Gould had it right: “I can always hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

  3. Davis might have a point. But so does Jonathan.

    The one thing that relieves me about this bit of thuggery is that it allows the senators to go home. They would have, anyway, in a while. If the issue had still been open, they would have looked weak by going home: surrendering without getting anything in return. Now, they don’t. There’s a big difference between being a victim of overwhelming force, and being a victim of one’s own cowardice. The former is an object of sympathy: the latter of contempt.

  4. That’s a hellava ripe quote Davis…

    Let me throw out a paste from a recent Krugman op-ed:

    The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society. Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display…

    I am not furious about the Shock doctrine…
    I understand billionaire greed knows no bounds…

    But what makes me furious is what enabled the Shock Doctrine to steal Wisconsin: The Obama extension of the Bush tax cuts.
    The Great Compromiser’s willingness to compromise and let the ultra billionaires skate free, has enable the Republicans to scream “We’re broke.”
    Everything that has followed, in Wisconsin and now with non-discretionary social spending cuts, is a result of the extension of the Bush tax cuts.

    It was obviously depressingly bad government policy then…
    But now we are seeing the full monty of what Obama’s passivity has wrought…
    I said then about him: This dog don’t hunt…
    Now in the wake of this WI washout I put it this way: This is the weakest, frailest, namby-pamby Democratic president ever.
    Obama was handed a FDR sea-change moment, and he pissed it all away. Not like a man-dog.
    But in a weak crouch with ears down and tail wagging in deference.
    Sickening… right-wing fawning.
    I am fed up with this mealy-mouthed, paralysis-analysis, no-presidentin’ president….

    Honestly…
    I wish the Republicans would run Huntsman.
    He’d be a stronger Democrat.

  5. You guys are confusing public and private unions. In the end, this is about partisan politics, period. Public unions exist simply to fund Democratic campaigns. They do it very effectively through the mechanism of their membership requirement. This results in the farce of collective bargaining where the same interest sits on both sides of the table. Republicans are compelled to break the feedback loop. The fact that public employee benefit plans are underfunded and cannot be afforded at current levels presents the opportunity to do so. The majority of voters will be pleased by the fiscal result (as in Indiana), and most of them resent the overly generous overtime pay and double dipping (including post retirement social security dipping) enjoyed by their public employee peers. The Dems’ flight tactics in this and other cases will backfire on them in most states as it did in Texas. The People’s Republic of California is hardly typical, and Pete Wilson was a different kind of Republican, and not very smart either on the demographic issue you highlighted.

    Wisconsin could be problematic because it has always had a very progressive strain coexisting alongside its midwestern sensibility. It will be interesting to watch.

  6. This results in the farce of collective bargaining where the same interest sits on both sides of the table.

    I want to be paid more, and my school board wants to pay me more, too?

    I missed that bit.

  7. Koreyel: I’m not thrilled with the tax cut extensions either, but how did they lead to Wisconsin? It’s not like these Koch types need encouragement. That is maybe the one thing I almost admire about them — their stubborn imperviousness to reality and to how they look to the rest of us.

  8. NCG…

    The tax cuts for the rich allowed for the dominant meme of the year: “We’re broke. And we all gotta suffer some and pay…”
    This has allowed the Republicans to cover their anti-poor people tracks…
    And appear as fiscally responsible adults making the hard choices.
    All very noble of them indeed…

    It’s a wonderful twofer for them: Destroying the low ground and grabbing the moral high ground.

    That’s my take on it anyways…
    Which is based more on my sense big-picture social forces at work than on hard analytics backed up by data.
    So I definitely could be wrong.

  9. Redwave:
    Your solicitude for the private sector unions is touching, after your fellow conservatives have succeeded in killing them. There’s a word for this in the international language of Communisks and libruls: chutzpah.

  10. Jonathan: “But that doesn’t mean that it will work politically over the long run.

    This is the sort of thing that might win a battle but lose a war. It is so transparently ruthless that it could enrage the opposition in a way that takes the battle to an entirely new level.”

    I hope so, but please sit down with somebody who’s actually acquainted with the history of the USA from Nixon onwards. The GOP has gotten vast mileage out of being ruthless b*stards, and very little loss.

  11. Ebenezer, too many private unions killed themselves by pricing their employers out of the marketplace.

    Davis, surely you can’t really be that disingenuous. School Boards have been notoriously weak negotiators; in fact, teachers unions do a pretty good job electing friendly Board candidates. Not only that, the elected state officials (financed by the teachers unions) have poured in huge amounts of state aid on which districts have grown dependent. The feedback loop is pretty much all encompassing. But the tax pools, both property and state income, have been maxed out. Change is here and still gaining momentum. The pendulum could swing too far (it usually does) but there is a certain inevitablilty to the process. People who actually pay taxes have had it.

  12. Ebenezer, too many private unions killed themselves by pricing their employers out of the marketplace.

    Haha, yeah, I remember all those poor auto industry CEOs in tatters on street corners begging for quarters, having given all the companies’ money to those damnable unions.

  13. What measures to combat illegal immigration, in your view, are something other than “demonizing the undocumented”?

    What is the evidence that California latinos swung to Democrats before and after Prop 187? To the extend the Democrats are doing better in CA now than in 1994, I would say it is in rapid decline of California’s white population.

    From a recent article in the New York Times:

    “The number of white children in California dropped by 21 percent in the last decade, with a similar decline in the number of black children. Over all, the state’s population increase for children was half a percent, a factor in the more modest growth statewide.

    Kenneth M. Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, said this was the biggest drop in census data so far for a white-child population in any state.”

    Republican measures against illegal immigration probably reduced the rate in which their demographic base fled the state over this period, and seem quite rational to me. Likewise their efforts opposing further tax increases, which disproportionately fall on their voters.

  14. School Boards have been notoriously weak negotiators.

    My constant-dollar line 7 on my 1040 has gone up 0.6% in the last four years. After insurance increases, increases in the rate of employee contribution to the state retirement system, and decreases in reimbursement for re-certification coursework, my constant-dollar net is down about 10%.

  15. “School Boards have been notoriously weak negotiators; in fact, teachers unions do a pretty good job electing friendly Board candidates.”

    Translation for first clause: “School boards won’t negotiate in the same way we would negotiate (and our arrogance about our own superiority in such matters is without limits), so we are going to take that out of their hands, despite our strong political commitment to local governmental control and decision-making (except when it conflicts with our superior viewpoint, of course).”

    Translation for second clause: “Damn democracy!”

    Hey, you know what, voters in my community are terrible at picking candidates that will govern the way I think our community should be governed, so we should take away their right to vote and let only those who share our ideals vote.

    Walker’s position is one of inescapable anti-democratic totalitarianism that means to take away the rights of anyone who opposes he and the self-appointed elitists that form the basis of his support because those who oppose him don’t know what’s good for them.

    And these folks have the gall to criticize the federal government for creating a “nanny-state?”

    Hey, school board, I’m your nanny, says Governor Walker! Welcome to my nanny-state here in Wisconsin.

  16. However school boards get elected (and turnouts stink as we all know), once they get elected, they are supposed to represent the taxpayers. They have a duty to provide a competent public school for the community and to do it at a reasonable cost.

    If you think most Boards really represent taxpayers, you haven’t been to a recent Board meeting. School taxes are driving people out of their homes. The amount of per pupil spending keeps going up and educational outcomes either stagnate or get worse.

    As to the question of rights, it is a matter of law whether public unions have the “right” to bargain collectively. They did not have that right in most jurisdictions until relatively recently, and still don’t in many jurisdictions. The “right” is not inherent, and it is neither guaranteed nor prohibited by the consitution of the U.S. nor most state constitutions. Some legislatures saw fit to provide that right. Obviously, they are having second thoughts. What’s the problem? Are teachers being horribly exploited by taxpayers? You wouldn’t want to put that one to a vote, would you?

    Full disclosure – my mother was a public school teacher and union member and my daughter is training to be one (which makes me quite proud, but doesn’t change my view of the big picture).

  17. School taxes are driving people out of their homes.

    The district I work in has had its school mill rate the same, or slightly lower, for five years.The only thing increasing is public safety, and the lion’s share of that is the county jail. Needless to say the value of the property in the present real-estate market is the same, or lower, over the same time span.

    The last increase was $130/p.a. for a $100,000 house, and that was due to the beginning of bond payments on a school construction project. Median-tier cable in the same town, over the same time-span, went from $86 a month to $122.

  18. “The amount of per pupil spending keeps going up and educational outcomes either stagnate or get worse.”

    What are they spending all that money on? Because from where I sit, teachers – whose unions are supposedly milking the system – aren’t seeing that much of it. We get our pay and benefits, most of which haven’t really risen much. Class sizes keep growing, services keep getting cut. There’s little money for extra programs. I’m a member of my school’s site council and we follow a very strict procedure for spending discretionary funding: we must show that it directly impacts learning outcomes in key academic areas, as well as meets the needs of specific groups, such as English language learners and special ed. Any waste you see in education is entirely out of the hands of teachers, as far as I can tell – most of us end up spending our personal money on classroom needs the district won’t cover.

    Larger point on unions: sure, I’m glad to pay my dues for the protection they guarantee me with regard to due process, and their lobbying on my behalf in the capital and Washington. But much of that lobbying not only has to do with personal compensation, but the pedagogical concerns of those in my profession who do the actual teaching. Right now, most teachers feel policy reform is actively harming not only teachers, but students. Our union has representatives from each site, thus enabling it to give us all a voice where it matters most. Without the union, policy would be much more top-down and out-of-touch with the wisdom of the rank and file. Believe it or not, as a trained professional who has made a lot of sacrifices in deciding to be a teacher, I actually care about my profession, and want to see the best outcomes possible. That’s in my interest in the classroom, as it allows me to better do my job, as well as as a citizen who believes in the power of education for every child.

  19. Eli, I will stipulate that most teachers work extremely hard and really care about the progress of their students. I will also stipulate that too much spending goes to wasteful school administrative functions instead of toward actual instruction and learning. Especially in suburban areas, school districts are balkanized, there are too many and they should be merged (but they fight to the death to keep their own districts). Why don’t Boards of Education do a better job controlling those kinds of costs?

    Having said all that, there is still lots wrong with the system that unions control, including rules relating to incentives, tenure and retention. In the end public employee unions have disproportionate impact on our politics and policy.

    It is also unfair to single out teachers among public unions. Personally I find SEIU and AFSCME much more noxious than NEA or AFT.
    Teachers also contribute much more significantly to their own retirements through 403(b) plans than other public employees do through their 457 plans, in my experience.

    Bottom line – taxpayers have to regain control of their budgets and that means significant changes. Office holders who fail to find a way will have very short incumbencies.

  20. I’m led to believe that democrats abhor unity after reading these posts. I hope this not to be true, but…Those who should choose to dislike Republicans are encouraged on this forum, and comments follow this direction: the word “democrat” or the “dems” is separated from the rest of their govt workers when speaking of “help” “for the working class” “doing the right thing” and republicans are separated and tagged with anything negative “the Republicans -are broke” “the republicans -bad decisions” REALLY? the Republicans are broke? let me get this straight.. if we vote as a group… and the govt goes broke… then omg really? should I be laughing at cherry picked ideas & statements? cause its funny. It’s so obsurb It’s funny… those who start the businesses (that hire you/me) WILL leave this country if WE (dems and reps) continue to vote for laws/taxes that obviously remove and dilute incentive to work. (make sense? think about it) Obama is a great leader in the sense that he stresses “working together-coming together” If that means “coming together and (lol) sharing our money” then america is doomed. I only hope that it means being civil and voting together and respecting %51 %49 wins. right? Obama was a %52 %48 win (or very very close) and I voted for ron paul. Im a democrat. so we as a democracy elected Obama. Im an American..which means I support. so… get where I’m headed? Great. Go educate yourself America. go learn, and vote. dont complain. just vote.

  21. Redwave72 is either wrong or right. but his/her comments are obviously based on much experience and research. Moreso than most (including myself). I suggest that anyone interested in this topic read comments posted by Redwave72; but more importantly: research govt. spending on teachers unions/salaries/pensions and the posibility of over spending. (For instance: You “the tax payer” are the other side of the bargaining table. (those who work, have $100, $300, $1000 w/e the amount, spent at this “table”) Now… Make an attempt to BE at this “table” to represent yourself. good luck my friend…

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