Monday, February 28, 2011

Governor Weaker

After repeated threats to "clear" the state capitol building in Madison, the chief of police refused to do so. As in all power struggles, there are decisive moments, events that have deeper meaning beyond the immediate impact. For all his bluster and refusal to budge, the chief of police has showed that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker might not have what it takes to win what has become a far more protracted and important conflict over the right of state workers to organize.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan called the bluff of the air traffic controllers, and fired them, lock, stock, and barrel. Regardless of one's feelings about that act, one thing is sure; organized labor understood that Reagan meant business. With a President willing to fire an entire group of federal employees, labor's struggles with management across the country became that much more difficult. The federal government would not be (at best) a neutral arbitrator, a resource to which parties could turn in order to negotiate differences. Businesses wishing to eliminate the threat of organization through mass firings now had a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, and they knew it.

Gov. Walker, on the other hand, is finding it more difficult to find friends. He may have the Koch brothers, but at this point, they are toxic. Republican governors are running from any association with Walker's attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from state employees. The protesters in Madison have stayed despite bad weather, threats of arrest, and bad mouthing from some in the press. They reach out and thank the police, knowing that as organized workers doing a tough job in bad conditions, they stand to win or lose much depending on the outcome of the legislative process and street protests. The police trip over themselves praising the good-natured, well-behaved, and even politeness of the protesters. The police, right up to the chief of the Capitol police in Madison, know who has their backs, and it isn't the Governor or the Republicans in control of the state Senate.

This isn't over, by any means. All the same, despite winning pretty handily - 54% of the vote is substantial in most places - the last dregs of goodwill and political capital Gov. Walker had when he entered office is dripping on to the snows of Madison. Even should the measure pass, Walker will face a hostile press, a hostile state workforce not necessarily willing to implement other laws that pass with his support. He has been exposed, as of this morning, as a paper tiger, so the advantage, and momentum, is clearly with those who oppose the attempt to strangle Wisconsin's public employee's unions. For all intents and purposes, barely two months gone, Gov. Walker's effectiveness as governor is over. The longer this continues, and the more he displays a lack of any ability to control events, the weaker he will become (which, I should add, gives the protesters all the more reason to drag this out).

Were I Scott Walker this Monday morning, I'd be on the phone to the real Koch brothers, wondering if there were any positions open.

Virtual Tin Cup

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