By Steve Gunn
MADISON, Wis. – It’s fun to watch Wisconsin’s self-serving public sector unions flirt with electoral disaster.
On the one hand, they admit their effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker is a huge test of their credibility. As Greg Junemann, president of the Professional and Technical Engineers Union, recently told WISN.com, “If we lose, it’s a shot in the mouth. We can survive it, but we’ll be reeling.”
Given that statement, one would expect the unions to be doing everything in their power to maximize their chances of victory. That would involve strong efforts to unite the Democratic Party, and avoidance of situations that make the unions look less than genuine in their arguments.
But despite their determination to remove Walker from office, the unions keep tripping all over themselves.
The first example is the release of a video attacking Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, courtesy of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Barrett is a Democratic candidate for governor, but he is not the union’s preferred Democrat, so they want to demonize him in front of voters.
That could prove to be a big mistake if Barrett wins the nomination. And that’s looking increasingly likely. A new poll released Monday by the Democrat-learning Public Policy Polling showed Barrett beating Falk 38-24 percent, and Walker beating Barrett 50-45 percent.
The second example is survey data from Wisconsin’s public schools that went missing from the Wisconsin Education Association Council’s website. The Walker administration said the data, which Walker officials eventually retrieved despite the union’s obstruction, proves that public schools have been doing well under Act 10 (Walker’s anti-collective bargaining legislation).
Predictably, the Walker administration is getting a lot of mileage out of the union’s “hide the facts” strategy. Undecided voters are bound to be interested in what the union is hiding and why.
Falk or nobody
Wisconsin has a very unique recall system.
In many states, voters pull the “yes” lever if they want to remove the public official in question, and “no” if they want to keep that person in office. If the official is recalled, there will be a special election to pick a replacement.
In Wisconsin, recalls are treated like regular elections. The opposition party picks a candidate to place on the ballot against the recall target, and the winner gets to serve the balance of the term.
Gov. Walker will obviously be the Republican nominee in the June 5 election. But several Democrats are fighting for the right to be his opponent.
The public sector unions who led the recall petition effort have already picked their candidate. It’s former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who vowed to reject any state budget that does not include the reimplementation of collective bargaining privileges for public sector unions.
But Falk is facing a tough fight for the nomination.
Polls have shown Falk and Barrett in a tight race, with the primary scheduled for May 8. One might expect the unions to pump up both candidates, to maximize the chances of either one beating Walker at the end of a very short election season.
But the unions seem to want what they want, exactly the way they want it, with no room for compromise.
How else could they explain an email and video that recently went out from AFSCME to thousands of its Wisconsin members, suggesting that Barrett actually supported Act 10 and opposes collective bargaining for public sector unions?
According to the Associated Press, the email and edited video “incorrectly implies that Barrett supported Walker’s proposal passed last year that effectively ended collective bargaining (rights) for public workers and spurred the recall drive.”
So what happens if Barrett wins the Democratic nomination, which is a distinct possibility? How could the unions support a candidate they say supports Act 10, when their entire recall effort has been based on repealing Act 10?
For the unions, it’s obviously Falk or nobody. They seem to be putting all of their eggs into one basket and telling Barrett he will be on his own if he wins the primary election. We’re sure this strategy has met with approval in the increasingly confident Walker camp.
WEAC survey says …
For political pundits across the nation, the Wisconsin recall election is much more than an attempt to remove a sitting governor. It’s a test of the strength of the national education reform movement, particularly its effort to loosen the stranglehold that unions have had on public schools for decades.
If the governor is removed, Act 10 may very well be doomed. That means full collective bargaining could return to Wisconsin schools, and efforts to spend more scarce dollars on students, rather than union employees, would come to an end.
If Walker wins, school boards will retain the freedom to manage their budgets in the best interests of students and taxpayers, regardless of union objections.
The Walker administration released a report last week which shows public schools are in better financial shape under Act 10 than they were in the past. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, data shows that “more districts increased class sizes, reduced extracurricular programs, raised student fees and tapped reserves to balance their budgets in each year between 2002 and 2008 than they did in 2011-12.”
The information comes from surveys of school superintendents, conducted by WEAC in past years and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators in the current school year.
But when Walker staffers initially attempted to retrieve the historical survey information from WEAC’s website, the union had removed the survey results. Officials with the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators allegedly told Walker’s staff they didn’t have a copy of the information.
WEAC officials reportedly refused to respond to inquiries from the governor’s staff and the Wisconsin State Journal. They refused to be interviewed for the Journal’s news report.
The governor’s staff eventually found the survey results and publicized a comparison to 2011-12 survey data last week.
WEAC officials want voters to believe that Act 10 and the Walker budget cuts left public schools in a state of disarray. They don’t want anyone to notice that most schools, while still struggling with budget issues, are doing better they did over most of the past decade.
We suspect that more than a few voters are wondering why the union refuses to disclose the survey results.
If the public sector unions want the public’s support in the June recall election, they must do a better job of uniting their own party and being forthright with voters. Otherwise they are likely to get what they fear the most – nearly three more years of Walker and a public that will grow increasingly comfortable with the idea of collective bargaining being pushed to the side and forgotten.