February 24, 2011 7 Comments
“We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.”
—Stephen Vincent Benét, Litany for Dictatorships, 1936
Because things here in Wisconsin are moving at such a fast rate, I wanted to provide a brief update on my post from yesterday. You may notice I have repeated the quote from Benét; to me, this should be plastered on every government building across the country. Our leaders, from the president on down to the people who serve on our municipal councils, need to remember that the power attained in leadership is temporary, and that political power alone does not grant wisdom. It is only by reaching out to others who may disagree with you, by listening to and engaging the public, by looking at both sides of an issue and showing a willingness to find consensus and compromise, that true political power and wisdom are attained.
Sadly, that is not what is happening in Wisconsin as I write. The conversation is breaking down and positions are hardening, with no compromise in sight by either the governor or the Democratic senators. And this is bad for our democratic process. Out of these tough times, however, a small light of leadership and compromise shines through, though sadly underreported in the national media.
Last week, in trying to find middle ground between preserving the rights of the unions and the governor’s draconian move to end collective bargaining forever (and taking the governor at his word that such a move was necessary to help the state budget process going forward), Republican state senator Dale Schultz offered an alternative: allow the collective bargaining rights to be frozen for two years, giving the state time to work through its budget emergency, with the freeze “sun-setting” at the end of such time. (Full disclosure: I serve on a statewide board with Senator Schultz, though I don’t feel that experience biases my opinion of him.) This proposed alternative would give the governor what he has indicated he wants—the ability to deal with the current budget situation—and while not perfect for the unions, this at least preserves their rights in the long term.
Personally, I would not want to see those rights taken away at all, and I feel the union has offered to compromise on benefits already, doing their part. I still stand with the unions on the collective bargaining issue, and support their actions. But I would rather see Senator Schultz’s bill pass than accept the hard-line alternative from the governor. Though Senator Schultz’s bill is not perfect, and practical matters would still need to be resolved, it’s a start.
It shows a great deal of courage for a Senate Republican, under pressure from the governor, to be willing to buck his party and offer any such compromise. The senator listened to the arguments against the governor’s proposal and came up with a compromise solution—the only one proposed thus far in the state senate, to my knowledge. At a time when positions are hardening on both sides, I applaud Senator Schultz for being a leader when we desperately need one, for understanding that our politics are about give and take, and that our system is not designed to give everyone everything they want all the time. To date, not one of his fellow senators has signed on to this bill; perhaps the “Democrat 14” should consider working with Schultz to make his bill better, to “come in from the cold” and actually show the leadership that, with the exception of Schultz, is missing right now. Until then, Senator Schultz, listening to both sides, hearing the public concerns, understanding the impact for all parties, and attempting to find a solution, remains alone in the legislative wilderness.