UPDATE 8/9/11: The big ta-doo in March spurred a recall campaign. In Wisconsin today, voters will turn out to cast their ballots to recall up to 9 senators (6 Republicans and 3 Democrats). What happens in WI today will have implications for national politics.
Originally posted 3/1/11: This is a complicated, yet kinda simple situation. The Governor of Wisconsin wants to balance his budget. He also wants to please the people who voted for him and helped finance his campaign to get elected with a “lower taxes, smaller government” mantra. So, the Governor cut taxes a couple weeks on the job ($117 million to business), which decreased his state revenue, now what’s a guy to do? Cut spending on public union jobs and shrink the size of government, of course. Yippee. Everybody happy?
Nope. The Governor asked the public unions to cut their salaries and benefits for the sake of the greater good and fill the budget gap of $137 million, so they did it. They weren’t super psyched about it, since they had been promised increased benefits over the years in lieu of pay increases, but they agreed. So, now is everybody happy?
Nope. This is where snow storms, picket signs and tens of thousands of peeved workers get a little painful to follow. It seems that Governor Walker also wants to take away the union’s collective bargaining rights (which allow the unions to negotiate with the state for employee benefits when it’s contract renewal time – think of it as the “lobbyists” for workers). It’s a biggy…and is being viewed negatively by 67% of citizens in Wisconsin (click to see poll results for the country by age, sex, income, education and ideological demographics) as heavy handed and an outright attempt to bust the unions altogether.
So, the collective bargaining sticking point has taken this local story, nationwide. The desire of people to rally and have their collective voices heard is Americana as we know it. We allow it. We encourage it. Heck, we celebrate it here and we get excited when people do it in other nations, as well. Our rights to peacefully assemble and petition our government are fundamental. Union protests have sprung up in California, Colorado, and even conservative Texas (which by the way, has no collective bargaining and the 2nd largest budget deficit in the nation) over this issue. So, if striping the rights of workers isn’t the easy answer to balancing the budget, then what is this really all about?
Why not let unions collectively bargain? The Governor can always say “no,” right? It’s kind of like when our kids ban together and ask for something…we can always say “no.” But, when they stick together, it makes it harder…so, we have to be smarter, stronger, faster, more consistent and nibble MAMAs.
So, this is where is gets simple again: It’s all about money (and not only the kind that’s used to balance budgets, but the kind that is used to win elections, too). Whoever has the most money, has the loudest voice to influence public policy. The unions collect dues that fund political initiatives and campaigns. So, bust the unions and take away key funding from political opponents, which is what some say is going on in this case. In the private sector, for example, companies hire lobbyists who are paid to represent their interests at the state and federal levels. Political action committees raise money purely to fund political campaigns of candidates who would represent their special interests, if elected. Money. Money. Money.
The influence of the all mighty buck is really the painful part of our current process. Money is power. And, we know that “power corrupts and total power corrupts totally.” So, let’s at least attempt to keep things balanced, shall we? Private needs public, public needs private, employers need employees, employees need employers, men need women, women sorta need men, Republicans need Democrats, Democrats need Republicans, yadda yadda…because we are the the checks that keep things balanced. We need the push and pull of democracy. Without it, we will lose our balance. Because if we take, take, take all the time from the people that don’t vote for us and give to the ones that do (regardless of political party), dollars tip the scales of influence, citizens feel minimized and that’s what gets people riled up and protesting in the snow. We’ve got to have some economic give and take, some shared sacrifice, or our country will tip too far in one direction and fall flat on its face.
Yes, money is power and it’s important to be realistic when considering how politics really works. But sometimes it’s fun to just “go there” and imagine what America would look like without the influence of money in politics – if big business gave up their lobbyists and labor gave up their unions and everyone just did the right thing. Hooray – everyone happy now?
What do you think MAMAs?