To borrow a phrase from an old B-52’s song, Wisconsin’s out-of-touch Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his legislative allies hope to be living in their own privatized Idaho (or perhaps Mississippi).
By 3 a.m. yesterday morning, the Republicans had rammed through the State Assembly a budget plan that is aimed at radically re-configuring Wisconsin as a Southern-style state where corporate CEO “job creators” are enthroned and enriched with new tax breaks, workers are reduced to near-sharecropper status, and public services like education and health suffer massive cuts and privatization.
Late Tuesday, the Republicans tasted an early victory when Walker’s draconian law severely restricting public-employee union rights was upheld on a 4-3 vote reflecting the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
REPUBLICANS AWARE OF LOOMING RESISTANCE
But the Republicans’ celebrations are tempered by their awareness of the tenacity of the union movement and supporters across the state. The Republicans’ ultra-reactionary budget –described below– should be viewed as an effort both to activate key Republican donors and voter blocs and to achieve as much of the GOP’s extremist agenda while they still hold power.
Just after the Supreme Court ruling was issued, an already-scheduled rally of several thousand at the Capitol heard Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt stress the importance of recall elections that six Republican senators face this summer.
“We’re going to elect people who believe in protecting the rights of people instead of stripping them away,” stated Neuenfeldt.
Although firefighters are exempted by Walker’s law, state Fire Fighters’ President Mahlon Mitchell also pledged an all-out fight against anti-worker and anti-public service legislation.
“We didn’t pick this fight, but if it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’re going to get,” Mitchell declared.
‘MINIMIZE IF NOT ELIMINATE’ MAJOR SAFEGUARD
The Supreme Court’s ruling overturned a permanent injunction against the law based on Republican legislators’ failure to comply with the state’s Open Meetings law requiring 24 hours advance notice of legislative business, stating that the Legislature need not follow the law.
Chief Justice Shirley Abraham, in the minority, castigated the four conservatives for their unjustified departure from Wisconsin’s constitutional protections of open government. The majority’s ruling would “minimize, if not eliminate,” a key constitutional safeguard for transparency in Wisconsin government, she wrote:
“This constitutional provision [“The Doors of Each House Shall Be Kept Open.”] , Article IV, Section 10 of the Wisconsin Constitution, has never before been interpreted by this court or any Wisconsin court.
The order interprets and dismisses the constitutional provision in four short sentences without citation or rationale — — an unsupported, four-sentence interpretation of a fundamental constitutional guarantee ensured by the people of Wisconsin!
LABOR PREPARES LEGAL CHALLENGES
Wasting no time, on Wednesday morning labor attorneys filed a new lawsuit against the Walker bill, with two others pending and numerous others in the pipeline.
The new legal challenge argues that the Walker anti-public union law violates the 1st and 14th amendments and unfairly deprives the workers of rights that they have held in most cases since 1959. The law also sets up various classes of public workers entitled to varying rights. To underscore the point that workers are fighting over essential rights to union representation rather than dollars and cents, the latest lawsuit does not challenge the economic concessions contained in the new law, estimated at anywhere from 6.8% to 15% depending on the group of workers.
But the unions are clearly not planning to rely too heavily on the courts. They intend to press ahead with the recall efforts and a flurry of rallies and community meetings across the state.
‘WE RELY ON EACH OTHER’: NOT JUST WAITING FOR COURTS
Commenting on the state Supreme Court decision, Mary Bell, president of the 98,000 member Wisconsin Education Association Council stated Wednesday night on MSNBC’s The Ed [Schultz] Show: “We know that there are supposed to be three independent branches of government, but it doesn’t work out that way. We will rely on each other, as we have been doing.”
The recall efforts, championed by labor and allies in rapidly-growing groups like We Are Wisconsin, have displayed far more strength and enthusiasm than Republican efforts to unseat three Democrats.
“The far larger number of petitions signed, the polling data, the quality of the Democratic candidates, and the momentum all favor the recall efforts against the Republicans,” said Democratic State Rep. Jon Richards.
For their part, the Republicans seem to have a three-part strategy:
1) Finding loyal Republicans to run as pseudo-Democratic primary candidates and thereby drain the authentic Democrats’ financial resources.
2) Attempting to immediately pass as much as possible of the most far-reaching elements of their agenda while they still hold a majority in both houses.
2) Consolidating the loyalty of their key bases in advance of the recall elections: donors from the ranks of CEOs and big investors and hard-core Republican voters affiliated with the Tea Party, Christian Right, NRA, and other constituency groups.
Noting the unwavering support that Walker has received from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, AFL-CIO legislative aide Joanne Ricca wondered aloud, “What ever happened to enlightened business leaders who were concerned about public education and a quality workforce?”
The Republicans’ legislative strategy has spared them from any pretense of bipartisan policy-making, a long-valued Wisconsin tradition which Walker and GOP legislators abandoned from the start. The result is unilateral “warp-speed” decision-making and single-mindedness displayed by the Republicans, as the NY Times reported:
The gears of government tend to grind slowly. But in Wisconsin lately they are racing at turbocharged speed.
In just the last few weeks, Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has signed legislation to require voters to show photo identification cards at the polls [seen by many experts as the nation’s most restrictive voter ID law as Republicans rush to pass such bills despite an almost-total absence of the voter-impersonation brand of fraud they claim to target] and to deregulate elements of the telecommunications industry.
And the Republican-dominated Legislature is now in the midst of advancing provisions to expand school vouchers, to allow people to carry concealed weapons, to cut financing for Planned Parenthood and to bar illegal immigrants from paying in-state tuition at Wisconsin’s universities.
However, Walker’s budget priorities, which raid public education funding to fatten corporate and investor tax breaks, are hardly popular, and seem to be igniting a growing blowback from the public.
Wisconsin had a freezing spring, but the summer promises to be very hot.