The tea-party-enabled Wisconsin Legislature is working overtime to protect its governor. On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that protests at military funerals are protected speech, two of the more benighted majority Republican state legislators offered their version of protected speech. They introduced a bill to prohibit telephone callers from lying about their identity as well as giving a false number, subject to a $10,000 fine. The Wisconsin legislators said that “while the use of spoofing is said to have some legitimate uses, it could also be used to frighten, harass and potentially defraud.”
The bill’s authors predictably insisted the proposal was unrelated to last week’s now-viral prank call to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in which the governor, believing he was talking to David Koch, the prominent moneyman for conservative causes, bragged about his unwillingness to budge in his stand against public employees. “I would be willing to sit down and talk to the [Democratic and Republican legislative] leaders. … [T]alk, not negotiate,” he emphasized. The governor is not reticent about his anti-union credentials. He thanked “Koch”—“one of us”—for “all the support,” and added that “it’s all about getting our freedoms back.” There we have Scott Walker unplugged, defrocked just as the Wizard of Oz.
Walker also urged the “Koch” brother to urge other newly elected Republican governors to advance similar agendas for “our freedoms.” This is their moment. “You start down the list,” he said, and “there’s a lot of new governors that got elected to do something big.”
Elected “to do something big,” Walker said. How interesting. Are we now to believe that Walker campaigned in 2010 to destroy public employee unions; that he would have public employees contribute more to their pension and health insurance plans; that he would “take” $28 million from the Group Health Insurance fund, a $1.1 billion segregated fund used to pay state employees’ insurance premiums, in order to meet the state’s obligations for its share of insurance premiums through June 30; that he would privatize state-owned power and heating plants, without requiring public bidding; that he would launch a study to essentially privatize the state’s healthy pension plan? No, indeed—Walker simply never offered such fare as an electoral platform.
Nevertheless, there is his “Budget Repair Bill.” Wisconsin now more readily can understand why the governor took 144 pages of dense statutory language to do more than simply destroy public employee unions and to require such workers to contribute more to their pension and health plans. Walker’s “shell game” is merely the second chapter to follow his successful stealth electoral campaign.
Wisconsin could be the poster state for the Republican advertising and game plan in the 2010 elections. For more than a year voters confronted commercials and an enabling media informing them that they were “angry,” and that it was time for a political sea change. Angry about what? At the outset, “angry” had no clarity or focus; nevertheless, tell a lie often enough and eventually it will be believed. Thus, Wisconsin changed governors; overwhelmingly elected a conservative legislature, determined to undermine the state’s century-long tradition of progressivism; and defeated the most progressive U.S. senator, Russ Feingold. Enough of politicians, the voters seemed to say.
The unknown Republican senatorial candidate, Ron Johnson, offered two basic campaign platforms: First, he said, “America is in peril”—and right he was, but for all the wrong reasons; second, he urged voters to reject the incumbent, a “professional politician,” a “Washington insider” with controversial ties to lobbyists. None of which was remotely true. The winner soon will be seen in Mitch McConnell’s hip pocket, and, ironically, he promptly hired a prominent lobbyist, Don Kent, as his chief of staff. Wisconsin got “change.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker was exactly the kind of career politician the electorate supposedly rejected in the senatorial race. Walker left Marquette University in his first year after he lost an election for class president. He promptly ran for the state Assembly, where he served a number of terms before becoming Milwaukee County executive. In other words, a lifetime spent in politics. But who would label voters as rational or consistent?
Walker told the “Koch” caller he was elected “to do something big,” and it is clear he intends to make further challenges to undermine Wisconsin’s more than century-long tradition of leadership in progressive public policies. He contends that Wisconsin’s pioneering civil service system—the “best” in the nation—makes public employee unions unnecessary. If so, then why does the governor now wish to alter that system? For starters, why does he propose new laws to discharge state employees and transfer career executive employees?
How things change. In 1967, Wisconsin Republicans controlled the Assembly, 53-47, and the state Senate, 21-12. Warren Knowles, a longtime Republican state politico, was governor. And this triumvirate granted state employees the right to bargain collectively. So much for current Republican charges that Democrats pander to unions.