Sunday, February 20, 2011

What I saw in Madison, Wisconsin






Madison, WI 2/19/2011.  John Maddente photo

It was a clear day at the Capitol.

What wasn't reported quite as clearly, among other things, was the composition of the Pro-Walker forces, which were outnumbered I'm guessing, by about 20 to 1 -- thanks in large part to throngs of out-of-state union demonstrators.  One problem with the media characterization, was that they consistently reported the Pro-Walker group only as a "Tea Party" rally.  Obviously, Tea Party members were out in force (and I was proud to be among them), but the group contained a broader cross-section of voters including mainstream GOP members and even a few Blue Dog Dems including one courageous soul holding a sign labeled, "I'm A Teacher For Walker."  I believe that man has more company than most people realize, particularly among private school teachers that are non-unionized and paid significantly less in wages and benefits than their public school counterparts.  

But back to the afternoon event.  It was non-violent, but press accounts labeling it as "peaceful" stretch the adjective.  The union faithful were deployed in a circle, perhaps a dozen members wide, that encircled the entire capitol building so that Pro-Walker supporters had to walk through them, and their insults, in order to get to the muddy basin of the capitol steps where Walker supporters gathered.  There were three times protesters tried to engage me in "dialogue" which I ignored to avoid a fruitless, heated debate -- or worse.  Remember, I said nothing before or afterward to these people.  That sort of provocation occurred repeatedly -- but you didn't read about it later.  

Another unreported, or at least under-reported development, occurred near the lectern of the pro-Walker gathering.  Suddenly, the speaker's booming voice went silent.  Turning to a friend, I said, "That was no accident."  Seconds later, an opposition mole was ushered away by Sheriffs and the sound system began to work after someone plugged it in again.

Union members marching around the capitol circle chanted, beat drums and hoisted signs -- most of which contained civil inscriptions -- but others with words or images of Governor Walker that are unrepeatable on this site.  Again, I saw no press coverage of these signs, though they were hard to miss.  I hoped that the owners of those particular signs are not teaching children.  I'm not sure they should be near children.  To be fair, I saw one or two signs in the pro-Walker camp that I also found objectionable, but the proportion of those signs was smaller than similar ones on display from the union side. 

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, columnist John Fund distills all this clamor into one question.  Mr. Fund asks, "Who's in charge of our political system -- voters or government unions?"  For decades, of course, the answer in the Badger State has been government unions.  That's about to end.  The objective is not to bust them, it's about requiring them to pay a reasonable share of their lucrative benefit packages and maintaining more future control with voters.

John Maddente photo
Fortunately, legislators do not need the 14 absent Dems to vote on the collective bargaining provision of the bill. 

Collective bargaining is a mechanism many want scaled back because such "bargaining" over the decades is what led to the outsized, budget-busting wage and benefit packages for many public employees. Pushing it all down to the local levels makes sense.  Instead of allowing the Left to spin this as destruction of collective bargaining "rights" -- it's more accurate and less emotional -- to characterize the legislation as a move toward distributed bargaining.  

If you're a public teacher reading this and you disagree with me, try thinking of it in the following terms.  The rest of us cannot routinely "bargain" for higher benefits at any level.  Instead we receive a market-based package, not a guarantee of permanent retirement income and Cadillac health care plans.  If we find our employers' benefits or pay unacceptable -- we have the same option you do -- go elsewhere.  We do not have, nor do we seek, any collective means to hold our employers hostage.  No one should have such means and pretending this is some divine "right" doesn't make it so.  Sorry.

One notion advanced by some on the Left, is that this legislation is all a surprise hijacking that nobody talked about before the election.  That assertion is also false.  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)  speaking this morning on Meet The Press explained how measures in the bill causing such a stir, are a well documented facet of candidate Walker's campaign before he took office and informed voters knew as much when they elected him.  Arguably, it is a significant reason that they did elect him.  

What is shockingly unprecedented, of course, are the fourteen fugitive state senators.  It's a disgraceful signal to young people or anyone considering a career in public service.  When things get tough,  flee the state -- just take your ball and leave.  That way, no one can play.  How sad.

I hope that this stalemate doesn't turn violent.  We can disagree without throwing punches. What I saw yesterday worried me.