Sunday, February 27, 2011


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.


  1. This is the best post I have read on this topic so far. It points up the danger that arises when the majority dispenses with the public hearing and deliberative process. BTW: The collective bargaining process is a polite term for the right to strike. The question is not really whether unions should have the right to strike--the question is whether they should have the right to strike when management fails to accept labor's last best offer. Fire and police cannot strike, traditionally, because they are essential employees. I do think that policy makers fail to recognize the vastly different leverage that exists among public labor groups who have the right to strike. If DMV workers go on strike, management can step in and handle essential functions, allowing other work to pile up. If teachers go on strike, single parent families have to find emergency day care, students miss classes, middle income parents transfer -- often permanently -- to private schools, and two earner families struggle to find day care or skip work. Even the threat of a strike can inflict devastating economic consequences on a school district. Incidentally, Wisconsin previously had a statute which limited labor settlements based on the level of state funding increase. It lasted until the democrats gained both branches of government, and it was then repealed. Jamming through legislation without public hearings and scrutiny is always a bad idea. It is, regrettably, a common practice in Minnesota as well --- its just that usually, such legislation is attached near the dead of night to last minute end of session compromises, rather than doing it at the beginning of the session. Best regards

  2. Thank you very much for your kind comments. Your insights are very valuable. My best, Arne

  3. I understand that another portion of Walker's bill would give the governor the power to unilaterally alter the cabinet structure of the executive branch. Gov. Carlson understood the merits of seeking legislative buy-in before making such changes. If Walker's bill succeeds, my guess is that he will have made himself one of the most powerful governors in the country -- this in the state that was the home to the broadly democratic Progressive Movement 100 years ago.

  4. Thank you, Gov. Carlson, for pointing out the equally disturbing language about utility sales in the bill. And thank you for pointing out what good governance should be. Now, is there any way to get Gov. Walker to read and understand this?

  5. This is a clear and concise statement - I think it's time for an Arne Carlson occupation of Walker's office for a little chat... The utility aspect is insidious. How can it be anything but a perk to a promoter waiting in the wings? The arrogance and uncaring posture is such an affront, and can only make it worse. It says a lot of Walker's intentions. Jerry is right, that Minnesota has its own red flag issues, and sometimes, even with public hearings and deliberations, we can be steamrolled. Look no further than the "streamlining" efforts and the many utility infrastructure projects now in administrative process and set to steamroll over thousands of Minnesotans.

  6. Teachers and all other public employees are prohibited from striking under the Taylor Law - the same law that does not allow air traffic controllers to strike. Collective bargaining is not only about the ability to strike if demands are not met. The goal of collective bargaining is to protect the rights of individuals who would have no bargaining power without the power of the group (the collective).

  7. Gov. Carlson, thank you for your perspective. I come from many years on the Teacher Union "side" but I also had the great good fortune of becoming good friends with one of your predecessors, Elmer L. Andersen, who shared your party designation and, it seems, your general philosophy towards governance. He was a great man. He's no longer with us, but I think he would agree with your comments. I wrote about his apparent philosophy a short while ago at my own blog Politics has become a vicious winner and loser game. In this kind of situation we all lose. Thank you again.

  8. Wow...that was an eye opener. Thank you.

  9. Thanks for this, Gov Carlson. You were the first and maybe last Republican I ever voted for *smile* and I remember your elections very well.

    I respect your perspective and know that you come at the issue from a place of trying to resolve the stalemate in a way that is fair to both sides. It's what you did in your terms here as Governor. Politicians will be partisan, it's just in the nature of the job. But once elected they really need to understand that they represent all their constituents. Even the ones who didn't vote for them.

    When I see Obama reaching out to Republicans I try to remember this, because I know how disenfranchised I felt under George Bush. I felt like the only people he was representing were Republicans. So when Obama makes us Democrats angry I try to put it into that context.

    I also think Scott Walker would have a better case if he had run on this issue. If he could point to speeches he gave, or position papers where he talked about ending collective bargaining then he would have more support. "Hey, the voters knew I was going to do this and they voted for me anyway." But for him to NOT negotiate on something this important to people, and to NOT have campaigned on the issue...well people are rightfully questioning his motives. Then there's that sticky issue about the firefighters and police unions that you mentioned too. Why aren't they impacted by this?

    Thanks for your thoughts. I look forward to reading more on your blog.

  10. Some things are worth going to war over. Like being subtlety invaded for the point of 20 million foreign illegal on our soil without our permission sucking our system dry while our own go without and our deficit continues to climb while we allow more and more to still do so.
    Mean while the right to strike is protested only in the fields that 1) protect , educate and heal or nurse our mentally , elderly and physically ill. Amazing these are also the only fields mandated to serve without choice and serve without pay at times. Even though they say that Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery years ago. Yeah tell me the wrongs of collective bargaining and why we shouldn't strike and I'll tell you why as a nurse I agree we shouldn't , I haven't but again some things are worse.

  11. Big corporations buying politicians, avoiding taxes and raiding our pension funds are what are sucking us dry. illegals are chicken feed.

  12. As a liberal, and a voter/citizen I admire folks like Paul Wellstone, Elwyn Tinklenburg, jim Ramsted, and Arne Carlson. They all seemed to share one great commonality.....compromise...middle ground. Well, we all know where Paul stood; but we all know how courageous he was...and how they broke the mold with him. While these model politicians "played the game" well, it was their sense of DUTY to the people that won the hearts and minds of the people. It's my hope, that if folks like Mr. Walker sincerely care about the needs of their people and their states, then they would adapt a simple Zen mind frame - empty your cup (your mind), and always be ready (have an open mind)...but it starts with being honest with yourself! It seems to me that Arne (the Zen Master) could be an appropriate person to sit down for coffee, beer, tea...with Governor Walker, and talk openly about the challenges at hand. For all of us, we are either part of the problem...or part of the solution. What harm could come to these "leaders" by surrounding yourselves with experienced, proven, respected Zen Masters. Empty you cup, and open your mind Mr. Walker. How much would that cost? p.s. Arne is yet another example of why I gush with pride when I discuss Minnesota politics with my out of state friends.

  13. Thank you so much for the eye opener,Seems he will(in the end) say o.k. on the collective bargaining that the Unions are wanting just to get the bill passed for the other things that are in it,what's that called....a red herring.

  14. I've heard the bill also contains a provision allowing health insurance companies to drop coverage for birth control. The lack of connection to the point of the bill notwithstanding, has anyone else heard or read this? It seems the more we know about the bill, the stranger and stranger it becomes. Isn't it time for some Republican legislators to come to their senses even if the governor won't and side with REASON for once, not party line?!

  15. When you write about the facts of the matter, not the sensationalized media version, I feel like I'm listening to Paul Harvey's "and now...the rest of the story". Thanks for doing the heavy lifting to provide us the balance of this issue.

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