On January 8, 2011, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson, Arizona. A nation was horrified. And, as a people, we resolved to bring about a new environment of civility. Republicans and Democrats reached out to each other and vowed mutual respect. Sadly, that effort has come to a halt.
Today, we have reached new heights of anger as a result of the struggle in Wisconsin. What we fail to realize is that history has taught us to be careful about a herd mentality because once thoughtful restraint is abandoned, recklessness and harm takes over.
Just briefly look back to the sinking of the Maine and our immediate assignment of blame which launched us into the Spanish-American War. Decades later we acknowledged that the explosion was internal and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Spanish. But how do you undo a war?
Fast forward to events that were even more serious: the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. How we wish that we had exercised at least some reflective restraint before sending our fine young men and women into harm’s way and tearing our nation apart
Perhaps in Wisconsin we could pause and start to take a slightly different look at Governor Scott Walker’s legislation.
First of all, it may be well to actually review the bill before rendering judgment. Overall, the proposed legislation provides for:
1—Limiting collective bargaining for state and local government units to the issue of wages
2—Limiting wage negotiations to the cost of living index and not exceeding that limit without a public referendum
3—Including all public unions except for police and fire.
Now let’s ask two questions:
1—If collective bargaining is an evil that inflicts considerable harm on the public, then why does the bill exempt fire and police? Governor Walker assures us that it is not political and the fact that some of these public safety unions supported his candidacy had nothing whatsoever to do with his decision. Ok. If that be the case, then why the exception?
2—We all know about the extended phone conversation with a fake Koch brother. But what we do not know is why that call was accepted while calls from legislative leaders were shunted aside. The Koch brothers run a privately held energy conglomerate headquartered in Kansas. They reside in New York City and Wichita, Kansas. They are also large financial supporters of Governor Walker. Now we are assured that the acceptance of the call does not reflect any form of favoritism. If that were the case then should not the Governor tell us why he so eagerly accepted this out of state call and refused the calls of legislative leaders elected by the public?
What is perplexing here is that governors are usually sensitive to the needs of the minority party and attempt to engage in negotiations in order that public policy decisions can have broad support. That is what governance is about. Certainly there may well be a need to reform the collective bargaining process. Therefore, why not try to negotiate reform rather than refuse to bargain, and ultimately, create a bitter divide that can cause the Governor harm down the road.
Further, there is a growing interest in another provision of the bill that is totally unrelated to collective bargaining. Jill Burcum of the Star Tribune, and Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize winner in economics, and the New York Times are starting to focus on a provision in the bill that has to do with the sale of state-owned energy facilities. The language reads as follows: the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount the department determines to be in the best interest of the state.
Certainly this empowerment should be disturbing to all particularly conservatives. How is it in the public’s interest to give such extraordinary power to one person (the Governor) who can dispose of taxpayer-owned facilities without public hearings, without legislative review, and without competitive bids?
In essence, publicly owned energy facilities can be sold like used furniture.
Now, it may be that this interpretation of that language is off base. However, the involvement of the Koch brothers, their energy conglomerates, their heavy financial interests in Wisconsin political campaigns and the Governor’s relationship with them and the language in the bill should at least cause thoughtful people to pause until the public receives solid answers.