Last night in Milwaukee, all of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s four potential Democratic recall challengers appeared at a forum hosted by a group of local unions. The forum had all the subtlety of an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras: The candidates danced and shimmied, all in an attempt to earn the parental love of the public-employee unions. (And perhaps a trip to Baskin-Robbins afterward, if they were really good.)
In trying to form a love connection with the public unions, former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk has already made a modicum of whoopee with organized labor, promising to veto any future budget that doesn’t fully restore collective bargaining power for public unions. At last night’s fashion show, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett showed a little more leg, promising to call a special session on collective bargaining, saying “we would put so much pressure on the [Republican] Assembly that they’d be quaking in their boots and they would have to pass that legislation.” (At some point, a candidate will vow to recall the robin as the state bird, as it failed to sign the petition against Walker.)
Barrett has been under fire from public unions, as he used Walker’s pension and health reforms to balance his own budget in Milwaukee. (This would almost be like Republicans picking a presidential candidate that once instituted a program similar to Obamacare. Wait . . . what?) AFSCME has been circulating a video they put together that purports to show Barrett urging passage of Walker’s law on local conservative talker Charlie Sykes’s radio show, and union members have been picketing Barrett’s fundraisers.
The irony of “progressives” behaving in such a manner is especially delicious, given that the entire progressive movement was essentially founded on the basis of special interests picking primary winners. One doesn’t even need to get to the third page of Wisconsin history to know that closed primaries — which the unions clearly favor in this case — are essentially the reason Robert M. La Follette became a proponent of progressivism at the turn of the 20th century.
La Follette walked into the Republican convention in both 1896 and 1898 certain that he had enough delegates to get the party’s gubernatorial nomination — and each time, party leaders ripped the nomination from his grasp in late-night, behind-the-scenes dealings. (In his self-congratulatory autobiography, La Follette says the sum paid out to buy off his delegates in 1898 was $8,300.) It’s why regulating the railroads and creating an open party primary became his whole legislative agenda when La Follette finally won in 1900 — to lessen the influence of special interests on the candidate-picking process.
A hundred and twelve years later, special interests are attempting to pick a Democratic nominee, and “progressives” are cheesed off that Tom Barrett would even have the nerve to consider taking on the unions’ hand-picked candidate. (Even though polls show he might be the one that has the best chance against Walker.)
And in these Democrat “debates,” it doesn’t matter what answers candidates give to questions about taxation, or Medicaid, or the environment. They must simply act like baboons, strutting around and presenting their colorful hindquarters in an attempt to lure their public-union mates.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.