On Wisconsin

Welcome to a new edition of KTR (5th edition of the Full and Essentials and 4rd edition of the Brief, both out this semester), though if you are still using the older ones we will be sure to cross-reference where necessary.

I am thinking the standoff in Madison, Wisconsin, might make a great What’s at Stake for the next edition. It’s a terrific example of two sides trying to use the rules to get what they want in a political conflict.  You can catch a quick CBS news video about it here.

Republican Governor Scott Walker wants to use his election victory to make changes in how Wisconsin politics works.  Under the guise of cutting the budget he has asked public sector unions (e.g., those representing teachers, firefighters, police, etc.) to make concessions in their contributions to their healthcare and pension programs, but he is also trying to end their collective bargaining power over wages.  They have agreed to the former, but strongly oppose the latter.  In order to get a vote on Walker’s bill, Republicans need at least one Democratic state senator to show up to give them a quorum.  Democrat senators, supporting the unions, have left the state so that they cannot be found and dragged back to the statehouse.

The unions are seizing on this opportunity to flex their muscles.  Though union power isn’t anything like what it used to be, several polls besides the CBS/New York Times poll mentioned in the video above show that the public strongly supports the right of public workers to bargain collectively, and there have been enthusiastic demonstrations in Madison ever since the Democratic senators fled.  One observer makes the point here, in an analysis well worth reading, that this could have lasting repercussions for union loyalty and party politics.

Some things to think about are:

  • Why wouldn’t Walker be satisfied with just extracting concessions from the unions?  What does he have to gain by taking away the basic reason unions exist?
  • Many people argue that public sector unions are fundamentally different from private sector unions and that justifies taking away their bargaining power.  What is the argument here?  Does it make sense to you?
  • By denying the Republicans the necessary bodies present for a vote, Democratic senators are essentially using a version of the filibuster to prevent the vote from taking place.  Wisconsin law, by requiring xx votes, make this possible.  What is the reason behind such a rule?

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