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On (and On and On) Wisconsin, As Judge Stays New Union Law

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, including Gov. Scott Walker, have yet another decision to make in the wake of a state trial judge’s ruling Friday that temporarily blocked enforcement of Wisconsin’s controversial new public union law. And none of their paths are certain to bring them back to where they want to be.

Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi created the headache for Walker and company when she ruled that Wisconsin’s “open meetings” law required more public notice of a legislative vote than was given by Republican lawmakers on the evening of March 9th. That was the night GOP lawmakers took their surprise vote, in the absence of their still-in-hiding Democratic counterparts, and passed the divisive measure which undercuts collective bargaining rights in the state.

Gov. Walker subsequently signed the law and it was scheduled to be published — a requirement for implementation — on March 25th. But because the measure was enacted in violation of the 30-year-old transparency law, Judge Sumi ruled, it could not yet go into effect. The Wisconsin State Journal quoted her as saying: “This was something that would and did catch the public unaware… what ended up being a closed session of a body in propelling legislation forward.”

Her procedural decision had nothing to do with the legal or political merits of the fight over collective bargaining rights. But it will likely affect those merits anyway, in whole or in part. Here’s part of what the state statute says about how other state statutes are to be lawfully enacted:

“Public notice of every meeting of a governmental body shall be given at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 hours in advance of the meeting.”

After a brief hearing on the matter, Judge Sumi said Friday in court: “It seems to me the public policy behind effective enforcement of the open meeting  law is so strong that it does outweigh the interest, at least at this time, which may exist in favor of sustaining the validity of the (law).”

So the GOP in Wisconsin now has a few options. The GOP can go back to the start of the legislative process and seek to enact the measure in more traditional circumstances. This could mean more Democratic walkouts. It could mean more protests at the State House in Madison. It could mean some sort of political compromise. Or it could mean the passage of an exact but newer version of the new collective bargaining law. And there’s no point in betting on which option is more likely because no reasonable person would lay odds on any of it given Wisconsin’s recent political history.

The GOP can slug it out in court and hope that a majority of the justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court have a different view of the open meetings law (and what happened on March 9th) than did Judge Sumi. The problem with that option is that it requires the state’s appellate judiciary to undercut the open meetings law not just in these circumstances — which everyone concedes were unusual — but in more conventional scenarios as well. No one (yet) is claiming the law itself is unconstitutional or otherwise beyond the power of state legislators. The state supreme court could require a do-over at the Statehouse while promising its ruling has nothing to do with the politics of the law.

Or, the GOP can pursue both paths at the same time and hope for success in either one. The problem with that scenario is that it would require politicians to spend more time and energy in pitched legislative battle over an issue — new collective-bargaining legislation, properly noticed — which may subsequently be rendered moot by an appellate ruling that recognizes the legitimacy of the existing collective-bargaining law. I suspect few politicians in Wisconsin would want to go through the ordeal again even if they were assured that it would mean something in the end. But to ask them to do so when the existing law may ultimately be revived may be a bit much.

There are other lawsuits pending against the legislation. Judge Sumi herself is involved in another one of those. What emerged from political chaos looks now to be heading toward a period of legal chaos.

By: Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic, March 18, 2011

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Politics, Republicans, State Legislatures, States, Unions | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Wisconsin Democrats Can Teach Washington Democrats

Consider the contrast between two groups of Democrats, in Wisconsin and in the nation’s capital.

Washington Democrats, including President Obama, have allowed conservative Republicans to dominate the budget debate so far. As long as the argument is over who will cut more from federal spending, conservatives win. Voters may think the GOP is going too far, but when it comes to dollar amounts, they know Republicans will always cut more.

In Wisconsin, by contrast, 14 Democrats in the state Senate defined the political argument on their own terms – and they are winning it.

By leaving Madison rather than providing a quorum to pass Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on collective bargaining for public employees, the Wisconsin 14 took a big risk. Yet to the surprise of establishment politicians, voters have sided with the itinerant senators and the unions against a Republican governor who has been successfully portrayed as an inflexible ideologue. And in using questionable tactics to force the antiunion provision through the Senate on Wednesday, Republicans may win a procedural round but lose further ground in public opinion.

Here’s the key to the Wisconsin battle: For the first time in a long time, blue-collar Republicans – once known as Reagan Democrats – have been encouraged to remember what they think is wrong with conservative ideology. Working-class voters, including many Republicans, want no part of Walker’s war.

A nationwide Pew Research Center survey released last week, for example, showed Americans siding with the unions over Walker by a margin of 42 percent to 31 percent. Walker’s 31 percent was well below the GOP’s typical base vote because 17 percent of self-described Republicans picked the unions over their party’s governor.

At my request, Pew broke the numbers down by education and income and, sure enough, Walker won support from fewer than half of Republicans in two overlapping groups: those with incomes under $50,000 and those who did not attend college. Walker’s strongest support came from the wealthier and those with college educations, i.e., country club Republicans.

Republicans cannot afford to hemorrhage blue-collar voters. In a seminal article in the Weekly Standard six years ago, conservative writers Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat observed: “This is the Republican Party of today – an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working-class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement.”

Put aside that I favor the policies Douthat and Salam criticize. Their electoral point is dead on. In 2010, working-class whites gave Republicans a 30-point lead over Democrats in House races. That’s why the Wisconsin fight is so dangerous to the conservative cause: Many working-class Republicans still have warm feelings toward unions, and Walker has contrived to remind them of this.

Which brings us to the Washington Democrats. Up to now, the only thing clear about the budget fight is that Democrats want to cut less from discretionary spending than Republicans do. Quietly, many Democrats acknowledge that they have been losing this argument.

Thus the importance of a speech on Wednesday by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, intended to “reset the debate.” As Schumer noted, the current battle, focused on “one tiny portion of the budget,” evades the real causes of long-term budget deficits.

Schumer dared to put new revenue on the table – including some tax increases that are popular among the sorts of blue-collar voters who are turning against Walker. Schumer, for example, spoke of Obama’s proposal to end subsidies for oil and gas companies and for higher taxes on “millionaires and billionaires.” Yes, closing the deficit will require more revenue over the long run. But right now, the debate with the House isn’t focusing on revenue at all.

Schumer, who spoke at the Center for American Progress, also suggested cuts to agriculture subsidies and in unnecessary defense programs. He proposed changes in Medicare and Medicaid incentives that would save money, including reform of how both programs pay for prescription drugs. The broad debate Schumer called for would be a big improvement on the current petty argument, which he rightly described as “quicksand.”

To this point, Washington Democrats have been too afraid and divided to engage compellingly on the fundamentals of what government is there to do and how the burdens of deficit reduction should be apportioned. Wisconsin Democrats have shown that the only way to win arguments is to take risks on behalf of what you believe. Are Washington Democrats prepared to learn this lesson?

By: E. J. Dionne, Op-Ed Colunist, The Washington Post, March 10, 2011

March 10, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Deficits, Democrats, Federal Budget, GOP, Middle Class, Politics, Unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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