In the Bluff

“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.

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7 Responses to In the Bluff

  1. Ken Wagner says:

    There is no more room left to compromise. Pushing aside the notion that the budget “crisis” was manufactured, the unions already stated their position, which is that they will make and salary and benefit concessions necessary to fix the “problem”, but were unwilling to give away their bargaining rights.

    Even a freeze of bargaining rights is a pandora’s box. In those two years, it will be a series of Take it Or Leave it proposals that would destroy any power the union had, so when the freeze is over, they have nothing to bargain with.

    • Sam says:

      Good point, Ken. My point though is that to end the stalemate, we will need to see some leadership and compromise. The governor is not providing it (and likely will not), and it is hard to lead from an Illinois hotel room. I am not saying the 14 need to come back, but at least they need to dialogue and start the conversation(who knows, perhaps via back channels this is happening). While Schultz’s bill is by no means perfect, it is a start in the right direction. A temporary freeze probably could not work mechanically in any event, but we have to start somewhere. I do have a sneaking suspicion that the job cuts the governor has indicated will happen if the bill is not passed would happen regardless, and are probably already wired in the budget. We shall see.

  2. Ken Wagner says:

    The compromise is to take the budget repair off the table and allow debate to occur. If any of the 14 enter the state, they can be “compelled” to be present to allow a vote on the bill. The republicans in the state will pass the bill, and the Governor will sign it.

    The Governor is presenting an uncompromisable position. You can’t have some collective bargaining rights, just like you can’t be a little bit pregnant.

    One more thing to think about- The Governor of Wisconsin, a state in the United States of America, is less receptive to a peaceful protest consisting of nearly 100,000 of it’s citizens than a (former) Dictator of Egypt.

  3. sam says:

    Once again, great points. You are correct, you cannot have some collective bargaining rights. I agree with your point in theory, but that is not what the governor is going to do. He is committed and is in this for the long haul. He will not only fail to compromise, but may take workers down in the process. I am simply trying to argue practical politics. Someone has to act like the adult here, and since the Governor is not looking to lead, it is left to the 14, plus perhaps some republican senators with foresight (and a desire to be re-elected). I see Senator Schultz’s position as an olive branch that offers a place to start; and nobody need step into the state to work with this, at least initially. But then again, several politicians I have worked with over the years label me as too idealistic! Oh well, a boy can dream.

  4. Ken Wagner says:

    You are right, someone has to do something, but the something that is going to be done it just going to be terrible. Hopefully people remember it in 9 months when Scott Walker is eligible to be recalled.

  5. jason gilman says:

    The degradation of the quality and quantity of state workers either by lowering the attractiveness of salary and benefit packages or by outright layoffs will work against the Governor’s agenda to make Wisconsin attractive for new investment. The Milken Institute’s study on State solvency asserted that economic growth is the true solution to economic recovery, not higher taxes or deep service cuts. The degradation of salaries and benefits have the same affect as higher taxes on a large segment of the population and also lead to sevice cuts (fewer people who serve). I fear an exhausting unresponsive bureaucracy could be the outcome when we really need a professional, personal approach to business attraction.

  6. jason gilman says:

    Another thought on the growing disdain between private sector workers and public sector workers, fueled by the Governor’s rhetoric; the economic recovery that will help the private sector out of the struggles of the last three years will be compromised by a large segment of consumers (families with a public sector employee) becoming uncertain about their financial future. Some in the private sector seem to be missing this point and think of the public sector as a small segment of overpaid people when in fact every family having a parent in healthcare, education, agency work, etc. will be affected, causing prolonged retraction in spending, hurting private sector economic growth. To think this action will only take money from public sector employees is a gross miscalculation.

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