In Wis. and Maine, GOP Refuses to Bow Down to Law or History

Roger Bybee

Republicans in Wisconsin and elsewhere have become fond of saying, Elections have consequences.”

The implication: the November 2 Republican landslide provided them with an unconditional mandate to enact any measure they feel like, without respect to public opinion or constitutional principles. The chief mandate the Republicans seek to impose: further empowering and enriching the job creators” of society, the new euphemism they employ for the CEOs who so richly bankroll conservatives’ campaigns.

The strategy is clear: who can dare oppose what the job creators” need since they provide jobs at a time of prolonged unemployment and pay taxes on vital services? But there’s an economic problem with this job-creator”-focused political strategy. General Electric, whose CEO Jeff Immelt was selected by President Obama’s to chair his Council on Competitiveness and Jobs, provided an example of this difficulty, as underscored in a NY Times report March 24

General Electric has eliminated 20 percent of its U.S. jobs since 2002 while serving superbly as a job creator” in China, India, and Mexico. In one short span, it shut down 17 US plants. Despite its record of domestic job destruction, GE piled up $14.2 billion in profits in 2010 alone — and then managed to gain an additional $3.2 billion in tax benefits from the federal government.

GE was not an exceptional case. About two-thirds of major US firms paid zero corporate income taxes to the federal government. It doesn’t take a political genius to see a connection between this kind of tax policy and the federal deficits.

Thus, there’s likely to be a crack-up coming between Repubicans’ worship of the CEO class and the fast-rising resentment of the job creators’ failure to create U.S. jobs or pay U.S. taxes among the public. But the Republicans are not swerving away from this crash.

ONE GOP RESPONSE: PEDAL TO THE METAL

Instead, Republicans at both the federal and state level are putting the pedal to the metal when it comes to fulfilling the mythical job creators” agenda.

The Republicans’ combination of ideological zealotry and confidence in endless cash support from their corporate backers makes them oblivious to the political and legal difficulties that they are already facing, like the plummeting approval ratings of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican governors.

So we see the Republican Gov. Walker and his legislative allies defying a court restraining order halting implementation of their bill stripping almost all public employees of their bargaining rights. This legal stage of the Wisconsin class war started when the Republicans violated the state’s Open Meetings Law to rush the bill through the State Assembly.

When this violation drew a temporary restraining order March 18, the Republicans tried to circumvent the usual procedure for making bills officially become law. They have already rushed to impose harsh new payroll cuts and eliminate the automatic dues checkoff on which unions relyfor their finances.

JUDGE DEFIED, JUDGE OUTRAGED

This did not sit well with Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi, a Republican apointee, as the Wisconsin State Journal reported:

Any further implementation of Gov. Scott Walker’s law limiting public employee unions is barred, and anyone who violates her order risks sanctions…

Now that I’ve made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin,” Sumi said…

Nonetheless, Wisconsin Republican leaders complained that Judge Sumi wants to keep interjecting herself into the legislative process with no regard to the state constitution. ” But isn’t that what our civics books taught us, that the judicial branch exists to prevent over-reach by the other branches?

But Walker and Co. apparently seem intent on trying to fight the law in an expensive legal battle rather than simply hold another vote on the bill, which might reveal an embarrassing slippage in Republican support. As Judge Sumi pointed out, the needless cost that could be avoided by simply holding a new vote:

I am dismayed at this point that given the relatively easy fix for this, that thousands and thousands of dollars are being spent, all being footed by the taxpayers of this state, to pursue this litigation. Parties have every right to pursue litigation to vindicate their rights, but I think when taxpayers are paying the bill, that needs to be part of the calculation of the cost of continuing with litigation.

MAINE’S MURAL MENACE TO JOB CREATORS

Meanwhile, over In Maine, Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage used last weekend to take down a 36-foot mural depicting Maine labor history in the state’s Labor Department building.

The three-year-old mural by Judy Taylor is similar to those found in many hundreds of buildings across the US, where the New Deal paid artists in the Works Project Administration to create vivid images of states’ hisories. But LePage had the mural moved out.

LePage also ordered the re-naming of conference rooms named after labor heroes like United Farmworkers President Cesar Chavez, New Deal Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, and Rose Schneiderman, the garment workers’ union leader who demanded reform to address the barbaric conditions resulting in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911 that killed 146 young women locked inside a sweatshop (whose centennial was widely commemorated last week.)

The notion that the Maine Labor Department should reflect any of working people’s history against injustices was apparently abhorrent to LePage. The New York Times reported:

A spokeswoman said Mr. LePage, a Republican, ordered the mural removed after several business officials complained about it and after the governor received an anonymous fax saying it was reminiscent of communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.”

The connection between the mural, brainwashing,” and totalitarian regimes was highly ironic, noted Maine labor historian Charles Scontras of the University of Maine: Totalitarian regimes erase history as well. We manage to do it by indifference or neglect or for ideological reasons.”

But for the LePage administration, the visual representation of working people in the department serving working people is somehow an affront. Explained a spokeswoman for LePage:

The Department of Labor is owned by the people of the state. We need to make sure we’re representing all Mainers.

In other words, we must represent all Mainers, except workers for their rights.

By this same logic, public buildings should represent all citizens by being expunged of statues and pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr., who advanced an agenda of civil rights for people of color and economic rights such as guaranteed incomes and healthcare for all, positions undoubtedly repugnant to those people who matter to LePage. A simple anonymous fax making the complaint should suffice, judging by LePage’s example.

In response, Don Berry, president of the Maine State A.F.L.-C.I.O., was quoted as saying that 99 percent of our business people won’t have any problem with the mural.”

HISTORY NOT LEARNED: CHILD LABOR LAWS UNDER ATTACK

President Berry may be right, but the politically dominant wing of the corporate class in Maine, as in Wisconsin and Ohio and elsewhere, has no interest in recognizing labor’s existing rights nor reminding working people that they had to fight for those rights in the past.

Given LePage’s crusade to erase labor history and return his state to 19th century-era class relation, it is only fitting that the Maine legislature is currently working on a new bill to weaken child-labor protections.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education.Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus.More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue