During the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney returned to one of the original themes of his campaign – namely that his financial experience at Bain Capital qualifies him to solve the problems of a nation plagued by unemployment and debt. Ridiculed and reviled in millions of dollars of advertising by his political rivals, from Newt Gingrich to Rick Perry to President Obama, Romney’s private sector career remains his central argument for electing him on November 6.
Today Peter A. Joseph, a respected and experienced figure in the private equity business as well as a civic activist, scrupulously debunks that argument on the New York Times website.
Over the past three decades, Joseph founded two private equity firms, gaining considerable insight into Romney’s success at Bain as well as the differences between political leadership and investment savvy. While not unsympathetic to the pressures Romney faced at Bain or his industriousness in overcoming them, Joseph says those financial triumphs have no special relevance to the Oval Office.
The role of the private-equity financier, he notes, has very little to do with being a “job creator”:
A businessman seeking to optimize profitability will look to lower labor costs by reducing headcount, whether through technology, outsourcing, or rationalization. This is right out of the basic playbook. It is not the mission of the financier to create jobs. In fact, his mission is often to do just the opposite.
Joseph gently tweaks Romney for indulging in harsh anti-government rhetoric when so much of his and Bain’s wealth derive from investing the pensions of teachers, cops, firefighters and other public-sector employees. (He might also have noted Romney’s venomous hatred of the very unions whose contractual power enabled him to get his hands on their accumulated assets.) He also suggests that Bain and other private-equity outfits have ripped off their clients, including the workers, through inflated fees:
Romney constantly derides big government, but government is made up of individuals, whose pension funds helped make him and Bain unimaginably rich. There is no doubt that these pension funds sought the higher returns offered by private-equity investing. But as the private equity business grew, the public pension funds and other capital providers have gotten the short end of the stick. They have not completely shared in the value of the franchise that is created in part by their investment in the industry. It seems odd to hear Romney criticize big government without any acknowledgment that he has made much of his fortune managing the retirement funds of many public employees.
Joseph concludes by contrasting the qualifications of a private-equity financier with what is required from a president of the United States, which don’t have much in common:
Romney’s financial success is admirable and enviable, but it came by following the mantra of increasing cash flow, cutting jobs and minimizing taxable income. Though the Obama campaign has tried to exploit this with millions of dollars in anti-Bain ads, the real issue is how Romney’s experience relates to a president’s need to balance budgetary responsibility with the heavy lifting required to address our collective concerns, our common obligations. We have heard a lot about pragmatism and practicality, but I can assure you that compassion and broader social concerns rarely make it into an investment memo. If Romney really wants to push his Bain experience, Americans will have to decide whether the answers to the problems facing them are best provided by a financier president.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 19, 2012
Maine Governor Paul LePage has been waging war on the state’s unions.
The fight around Wisconsin’s public employee unions has in the national spotlight frequently over the last 18 months—culminating in Governor Scott Walker defeating an effort to recall him from office. But while most were at least a little familiar with the Badger State’s turmoil around the right to organize and collectively bargain, few have watched the unfolding drama in Maine, where Governor Paul LePage has courted controversy in his discussion of the state’s unions.
The governor made headlines a year ago when he removed a mural, deemed too favorable to unions, from the side of the state’s Department of Labor building. (In March, a federal judge ruled in favor of LePage’s decision.) But the art was only the beginning.
LePage has been in a protracted battle over a collective bargaining agreement with the public employee union Maine State Employees Association, which happens to be the biggest union in the state. Stateline has a great summary of the fights, which include various complaints against the governor; “the most significant, which has been granted a hearing, alleges that the state failed to negotiate in good faith and interfered with the rights of MSEA workers.” The governor has also pushed right-to-work legislation—which makes union fees voluntary and generally weakens or kills unions in states—in the typically moderate, pro-union state. The legislature doesn’t seem to be quite so excited about killing labor in the state, but it did take away union rights from independent childcare providers according to the Portland Press Herald.
But LePage’s relationship with labor turned particularly sour at a town hall meeting at the end of April, when, as the Bangor Daily News reported, the governor answered a question about fees by saying, “The problem is the middle management of the state is about as corrupt as you can be. Believe me, we’re trying every day to get them to go to work, but it’s hard.” Corrupt and lazy to boot!
Not only did the remarks rile the union leaders, but, as many local media noted, two GOP lawmakers also spoke out to defend state workers. LePage even sent a letter himself, clarifying the remarks to say that “some employees … had been corrupted by bureaucracy.” The note was far from an apology. “If you are dragging your feet because you do not like the direction the Administration is headed, then it is time to either get on board or get out of the way,” LePage wrote.
The results in Wisconsin will likely offer a game plan to other anti-union governors, showing they can count on the national GOP establishment to back them up. Maine may well become a state to watch as public employee unions in particular get targeted.
According to Waterville’s Morning Sentinel, when asked about the Wisconsin results, LePage said, in a fake Jamaican accent, “Yah, mon!”
By: Abby Rapoport, The American Prospect, June 7, 2012
Driving west from Madison, Wisconsin, through the small towns and dairy farm country of western Wisconsin, it quickly becomes clear that the Wisconsin recall election is a statewide phenomenon.
For all the efforts of Governor Walker to convince the hosts on Fox and CNBC that he is a popular governor who is threatened not by angry citizens but by “the left, the radical left, and the big labor union bosses” who are “somehow counting on the idea that they can bring enough money and enough bodies into Wisconsin to dissuade voters,” the message from farm country tells an entirely different story.
Walker has had the overwhelming spending advantage since the recall fight started last November. Walker has had all the benefits of the Republican Party organization that has gone into overdrive to aid his candidacy, while Democrats have faced a multi-candidate primary fight.
Yet, Walker does not have the swing counties of western Wisconsin wrapped up. Not by a long shot.
Along Highway 14, heading out of Dane County and into Iowa and Richland Counties, hundreds of hand-painted signs propose to “Recall Walker.” Most list reasons for the governor’s removal: “Worst Job Losses in US,” “Attacks on Collective Bargaining,” “Cut Education,” “Cut BadgerCare,” “Divided State,” “John Doe.”
Of course, the governor has his supporters.
But there is genuine, broad-based and statewide opposition to this governor in every region of Wisconsin—but especially in the western and northern parts of the state. Even as the governor has spent $21 million so far on the recall campaign, that opposition is growing.
The new Marquette University Law School Poll shows that disapproval of the governor’s performance had moved up to 51 percent. Indeed, the governor’s approval rating has now declined to 47 percent, the lowest point so far this year. And one of the prospective Democratic challengers, Tom Barrett, has now moved ahead of Walker in head-to-head match-ups run by the Marquette pollsters.
What has changed? The polling shows that Wisconsinites, who once felt that Republicans had the right equation for creating jobs (tax cuts for multinational corporations, attacks on public employees and their unions, slashing of education and public-service funding), have soured on the GOP and its poster-boy governor. They’ve been influenced, of course, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics study that reveals that, in the year since Governor Walker implemented his austerity agenda, Wisconsin has suffered the worst job losses in the nation. The Marquette poll shows that Wisconsinites now believe that investments in education, good relations with unions and fair tax policies are more likely to grow the economy than Walker’s “war on workers” approach.
The governor admitted Wednesday that the recall contest on June 5 is “a 50-50 race.” But what’s notable is that his numbers are declining, while numbers for the opposition are rising.
When I spoke at the Arcadia Bookstore in Spring Green the other night, we talked a good deal about the Democratic gubernatorial primary. I suggested, as I will here, that people should take their vote seriously. After all, they are not just choosing a nominee. If the signs in front of the farms are correct, and if the polls are correct, it looks like Democrats may be choosing a governor.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, May 3, 2012
“A Tough Sell”: As His Austerity Agenda Melts Down, Scott Walker Blames Protests For Record Job Losses
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker rarely does interviews with Wisconsin reporters who might ask him difficult questions. He prefers making the rounds of Fox New and CNBC programs, where he gets softball questions and an opportunity to promote his campaign website to the wealthy out-of-state donors who have sustained his recall run.
But this week he appeared on a popular Sunday news show, UpFront with Mike Gousha, and faced some of the most serious questioning he’s gotten since the last time he appeared on Gousha’s show.
Specifically, Walker was asked about the news that over the year since his policies began to take hold, Wisconsin has been the only state in the nation to experience what the Bureau of Labor Statistics describes as “statistically significant” job losses. Noting the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline that declared, “State Job Losses Worst in US,” Gousha asked, “Wasn’t that headline in the state’s biggest newspaper last week, the one that screams ‘job losses,’ isn’t that as about as damaging as anything that can happen to you five weeks before an election?”
Walker responded by blaming last year’s protests against his assault on public employees, public-school teachers, public education and public services. “Those [job loss] numbers reflect early on last year when we saw all the things that were happening around our state Capitol. I think there’s no doubt anyone logically would look at that and say ‘of course that had an impact.’ ”
Then Walker said the June 5 recall election—in which he could be replaced by the voters of Wisconsin—has become the problem.
“The biggest single worry they [businesses that might create jobs] have is what’s going to happen in these recalls. They don’t want to see the positive foundation reversed for us to go back in time—not only back to [the policies of former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle]—but even back to what we see in Illinois right now,” said Walker. “That’s where [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Tom Barrett, that’s where [Democratic gubernatorial candidate] Kathleen Falk would take us.”
But in the last year of Doyle’s governorship, after several years of dealing with the challenges created by the Bush-Cheney recession, Wisconsin’s unemployment dipped and the state created 30,000 new jobs.
In contrast, in the year after Walker’s policies began to be implemented in March of 2011, Wisconsin lost 24,000.
During that same period, Illinois added 41,000 jobs.
So Walker’s spin is a tough sell.
Even with Walker.
Indeed, when he appeared on Gousha’s show in January of this year, he was also asked about jobs.
The conversation turned to the influence of the protests and the recall election on job growth.
Walker mentioned the recalls but then, according to the recap of the UpFront program by the show’s producers: “Walker immediately walked back the comment, adding the recalls alone weren’t responsible for the state’s sluggish economy. He also insisted he wasn’t saying recalls are a factor in business decisions.”
The recap continued by noting that “[Walker] said no business leaders have told them they have decided against investing in Wisconsin or creating jobs here because of the recalls.” And Walker added that “he didn’t want to ‘over inflate’ any role the recalls have played in business decisions, saying it was largely attributed to the state’s manufacturing-heavy economy and a lack of demand in foreign markets because of the economic troubles seen in Europe, particularly Greece.”
So what changed from January to April?
Walker presumed, as everyone did in January, that Wisconsin would follow national job growth patterns in the months leading toward the recall election on June 5. Instead, while other states began to boom, Wisconsin kept shedding jobs.
Now, the governor faces the fight of his political life. And he is willing to say anything that will save him—even if it contradicts what he said just three months earlier.
The one thing Scott Walker is unwilling to do is acknowledge what everyone else is coming to recognize: that his policies are not working.
By: John Nichols, The Nation, April 30, 2012
An “emergency manager” bill allowing a state-appointed executive to unilaterally fire city councils and school boards and cancel union contracts has drawn the ire of Michigan’s labor movement for months. Resistance to the measure, including rallies of a few thousand and a promising repeal effort, have united elements of the state’s labor movement.
The emergency manager law is just the beginning, however. Eighty-five bills now under consideration start from the view that Michigan’s economic problems are the fault of public employees and the poor, rather than driven by a merciless recession and the auto industry’s contraction.
TEACHERS IN CROSSHAIRS
While teachers relaxed over the summer, legislators attacked their tenure and seniority. School boards can now fire teachers for any reason during the first five years of employment. Districts have the power to fire tenured teachers for any reason, not only for “just cause.” Administrators also gained discretion over teacher layoffs and placement, based not on seniority but on “effectiveness.”
Another bill, introduced in October, would make dues checkoff illegal for teacher unions with more than 50,000 members, which means the Michigan Education Association.
MEA drew criticism from lawmakers in April for asking local affiliates whether enough support existed for a strike.
Public employees who use work email for union or political business are threatened with a thousand-dollar fine and a year in prison, under a bill moving through committees. Its author says the law would be enforced by workers reporting on each other.
A school privatization package would rescind the cap on charter schools. Another bill would take away domestic partner benefits for public employees, including those in union contracts.
Unions have staged several rallies, but look to Democrats to stem the tide.
The MEA issued a commercial and website titled “Stand up for kids, not CEOs,” that resembles a 2012 election ad. “It’s time we teach these Republican politicians a lesson,” declares the ad. Seven Democrats, however, voted for the provision facilitating teacher layoffs.
Attacks on workers and the poor go further than legislation. Michigan’s civil service has shrunk by 11,000 employees since 2001, and more devastating cuts to the social safety net are on the way.
Eleven thousand Michigan families will soon be cut off cash assistance, and a recent court ruling jeopardized heating subsidies for low-income households, just in time for winter.
A privatization effort in Grand Rapids has drawn scrutiny from veterans and public employee unions. Hundreds of workers at a state-run veterans’ home are being replaced by underpaid, undertrained contractors. Reports of incompetence and maltreatment are rolling in, and court hearings are scheduled.
Meanwhile, the emergency managers, appointed by the state to run cities and school districts operating in the red, continue to wreak havoc. In Ecorse, near Detroit, the manager forced 60 percent of firefighters to part-time schedules. They lost benefits and nearly half their pay with one day’s notice.
While two ambulances sat in the firehouse collecting dust, an emergency medical contractor took over.
Members of Firefighters Local 684 described an excruciating wait at the scene of a head injury, hearing the siren of the contractor’s ambulance as it searched up and down nearby streets for the location.
“They were holding the guy’s head together with a towel,” said President Scott Douglas. The contractor took more than 20 minutes to arrive. “I still don’t know if the guy made it.”
CIVIL RIGHTS LESSONS
There are signs of progress.
“We’re able to pull together in ways that we haven’t seen in a non-election year,” said Greg Bowens, AFSCME Council 25 spokesperson. Public employee unions entered joint negotiations with the state for the first time.
Community organizations and unions have come together to gather signatures for a fall 2012 referendum on repealing the emergency manager law.
Clergy in Detroit are organizing, too, holding three marches at the governor’s Detroit office ahead of October 1, when the new budget went into effect.
Pastor David Bullock of the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church in Highland Park is pulling together an anti-poverty summit. Bullock intends to go beyond lobbying to bring lessons from the civil rights movement to the 21st century.
“We lost the point of protesting,” Bullock said. “It’s to disrupt power centers and to challenge them directly.”
By: Evan Rohar, Labor Notes, October 26, 2011