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Feb 10 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Going Nuclear in Wisconsin

What have conservatives learned from the labor fights in Wisconsin and Ohio? That’s a topic here at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.


I went to a panel called “The Return of Big Labor: What can we learn from Wisconsin and Ohio?” Nobody from Wisconsin was on the panel. And no one from Ohio, either.


In 2010, the Republicans in Ohio took over both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, just like they did Wisconsin. And the Republicans in both states passed anti-union legislation.


However, in November, Ohio voters repealed the law, known as SB 5.


“The difference between Ohio and Wisconsin is that Governor Walker exempted health and safety [workers] for the most part,” said Vince Vernuccio, Labor Policy Counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.


Going after police officers and fire fighters turned out to be a nightmare.


“In Ohio, essentially what you had is firemen and police—in uniform—going door to door, saying this bill will kill babies. Now when you have police and firemen in uniform, saying the apocalypse is going to happen, it’s very hard to message against that,” Vernuccio said. “The problem is we didn’t get our message into Ohio soon enough.”


Scott Walker has been saying the same thing, that he didn’t get his message out sooner. So that’s one lesson.


Lesson number two: Break the bill into smaller, more digestible pieces.


By sparing public safety employees now, other parts of the bill could pass, argued Vernuccio. “With that exemption, knowing that we could come back to it later, that’s a strategy.”


Lesson number three: Banning automatic deductions of union dues is good for Republicans.


“Studies of states that don’t allow automatic deductions of union dues have shown that when that kind of a law is enacted, that union activity in politics declines by 50%,” said Steven Malanga, Senior Editor of City Journal, and a Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow. “So that gives you some idea of what’s at stake in Wisconsin.”


This union political activity is overwhelming Democratic. “In past twenty years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, unions have given $400 million to federal candidates alone,” said Malanga. “Only 3% went to Republicans.”


Malanga said that Walker’s reforms are working and saving taxpayers money. He brought up Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett’s use of Act 10 to balance the budget.


“So we’re talking about a larger issue, what I’m calling fundamental or structural reform,” said Malanga. “And it gives public sector workers a choice. That’s one of the reasons we see people go nuclear, if you will, in Wisconsin.”


Malanga said that what happened in Madison will mushroom. “There’s a sense that if it succeeds in Wisconsin, then it will spread to other states,” he said. “It’s not going to spread to California, it’s not going to spread to Illinois, it’s not going to spread to New York, but it will to other states. It will create more of a sense of winners and losers among states and that’s what we’re seeing in this recession, anyway. So that’s really what’s at stake in Wisconsin.”


So why did Republicans pick this fight now?


Kevin Mooney from the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, a rightwing think tank based in Louisiana, explained: “The key stat goes back to 2009. For the first time in American history, more union members work for government than private sector and that has huge public policy ramifications. And this will continue to accelerate.”


Mooney, though saw the positive: “The political upshot: new opportunity for free market activists.”


During the questions and answer portion, one student asked what Ohio should do to enact long-term reform, given it is such a pro-union state.


Vernuccio from the Competitive Enterprise Institute said that Ohio needed to pass some version of SB 5. Wisconsin and Indiana are going to thrive, he said, with their reforms. “You are going to see those states sky-rocket, and Ohio is going to stagnate.” This decline will make people want to leave Ohio.


He offered a short-term solution instead: “Build a wall, a Berlin-style wall, to keep people in.”

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