John Colson: Hit and Run
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado
I note proudly that, for the past couple of weeks in Madison, Wis., my hometown and the land of cheeseheads, the moribund fighting spirit of this nation’s working class has been roused out of its slumber.
Public employees of all stripes, with an army of citizens at their backs, are refusing to let Gov. Scott Walker use them as scapegoats for the national financial meltdown that continues with no sign of losing steam.
My little sister, a former teacher struggling with a life-threatening illness that has her on oxygen 24 hours a day, overcame her disability and went down to join in the protest, which at one point swelled to 70,000 or so surrounding the state capital building.
This refusal to bow down has extended to police and fire fighters’ unions, which were exempt from Walker’s union-smashing ploy. The cops and firemen know full well that, if Walker wins his battle to strip collective bargaining rights from other unionized government workers, he will turn on them next.
But for now, it seems his main target is Wisconsin’s teacher unions, which last week offered to compromise and accept parts of Walker’s proposal. They were willing to go along with cuts to pay and benefits, but not with Walker’s bald-faced attempts to crush unions.
Walker, true to the thuggish political machine that made him what he is, has refused to compromise in his bid to oust labor unions from engagement with public-sector employees.
He was caught on tape, in a phone conversation with a reporter posing as billionaire right-wing agitator David Koch, scheming to resort to dirty tricks to get the Wisconsin 14 back in their legislative seats.
He told “Koch” of a plan to promise to meet with the absent state senators in a ploy to get them to come back from Illinois. Once they were back across the state line he would refuse to meet with them until they reported in at the legislature.
After that, he and his minions would claim they had a quorum needed to pass Walker’s anti-union bill, even though the 14 would actually be in Walker’s office waiting to talk with him.
When news broke of the phone call, Walker’s opponents, including the tens of thousands of protesters who had marched on the state capital in Madison last week, howled with glee over his fawning attitude toward “Koch.” As has been publicly stated, the right-wing Koch brothers contributed $48,000 to Walker’s campaign last year, and helped in the current crisis by busing in Tea Party regulars from out of state to stage a pro-Walker demonstration. Now, there are rumblings of an investigation into Walker’s statements in that phone call, which some say could constitute ethics violations of the state’s constitution.
As I write this, the 14 have not fallen for the trick, and Walker’s allies in the Wisconsin State Assembly have voted to approve Walker’s union-busting legislation. But the state senate cannot act until a quorum is established.
It is interesting to note that Wisconsin, back in 1959, was the first state to allow government workers to unionize if they wished to, and they did, according to a column by author Joyce Anderson.
The image of the state, indeed, is of one of the most progressive jurisdictions in the country, an image that was true for most of its history, dating back to the days of “Fighting Bob” LaFollette.
It should also be noted here that Walker seems to be deliberately misleading the state’s voters, by repeatedly citing a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
In fact, according to the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, the shortfall for the coming fiscal year is $137 million, in a general fund budget of $14 billion. The current shortfall, according to published reports, is tied in part to business tax breaks approved by Walker and by the legislature. The $3.6 billion Walker keeps repeating would not come to pass for another three years, and then only if nothing at all were done to head off the tsunami of red ink.
But, as is too often the case, Walker is hoping that by sheer repetition, his half-truths will be accepted by the voters.
He may have a surprise coming, however. According to one poll, more than 50 percent of Wisconsin’s voters do not approve of his attempt to fix the budget on the backs of the state’s public-sector unions, most prominently the teachers’ union.
And the beat goes on.
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