The Circus Rolls Back into Wisconsin

by Christian Schneider

The denouement of the Wisconsin public-sector-union battle will likely take place this week, as the state senate and assembly are poised to re-vote on Governor Walker’s plan to curb collective bargaining for government employees.

Since being passed on March 9, the law has been struck down by a Madison-based circuit court judge on the specious grounds that in passing the bill, the state senate violated an open-meetings law. Unless the state supreme court vacates that judge’s ruling by the end of today, it is expected that the assembly will add the collective-bargaining provisions to the pending state budget and re-pass them. (At which point they will almost certainly face more court challenges.)

Naturally, with a monumental vote on the docket, Madison has once again become a magnet for the theatrically aggrieved. Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to once again swarm the capitol, chanting and beating drums. The AFL-CIO and the state’s largest teachers’ union have both urged their members to flood Madison. Demonstrators don’t even need to make new signs — they can just dust off the ones they waved around in March. (Although with Osama bin Laden gone, they might need a new homicidal maniac to whom they can compare Walker.)

Legislatively, the template for the debate is pretty well set. Democrats will offer dozens of amendments, dragging the process out as long as possible — most likely into the middle of the night, so a quiescent press will print that the budget was passed “under the cover of darkness.” (Without mentioning that without Democrat delay tactics, it would have passed in about 30 seconds.)

In The Muppets Take Manhattan, when Kermit the Frog becomes an ad executive, he comes up with a brilliant campaign for soap: “Ocean Breeze Soap — it’s just like an ocean cruise, except there’s no boat and you don’t actually go anywhere.” Democratic arguments on the floor will follow this same model: The bill rolls back 100 years of labor history, attacks the middle class, and amounts to modern-day slavery. Except that it doesn’t do any of those things.

They will also charge that these reforms are politically motivated — and on that count, they might be closer to the truth. Halting the practice of automatically deducting union dues from government employees will undoubtedly dry up the amount of money unions spend to elect Democrats to the statehouse. Yet more damage has been done to Democrats’ electoral prospects by Anthony Weiner’s Blackberry than this collective-bargaining law.

Once the assembly finally passes the bill, the senate is expected to take it up quickly, to get it to Walker for his signature as soon as possible. Then, nine senators will return to their districts to face recall elections over this imbroglio. (It took 70 years of Wisconsin history for a state elected official to be recalled under the law, and now nearly a third of the senate risks being recalled contemporaneously.)

Live video of floor action can be seen here. The assembly is set to begin debate at 11:00 central time, although session rarely begins on time.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

The Corner

The one and only.