Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's collective-bargaining legislative maneuver: Opinions and questions going forward

Compiled by Justin Bank
Washington Post staff
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 3:32 PM

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is closer to getting his proposed collective-bargaining rights legislation enacted. As Michael Fletcher reported:

Senate Republicans abruptly passed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's plan to sharply curtail collective-bargaining rights for public employees Wednesday night, using a legislative maneuver to approve the measure without 14 Democratic senators who fled the state in an effort to block it.

After stripping the bill of fiscal measures that require a 20-member quorum for action, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Senate passed the collective-bargaining measure. Analysts say the legislation would cripple most of the state's public employee unions.

Jennifer Rubin thinks the move could be a good one for Walker:

Why didn't Walker do this sooner? It may be there was genuine confusion over whether the collective bargaining measures were "fiscal" and therefore required a quorum. And certainly Walker would have preferred to have the Democrats come back, removing any question about the legislation's legitimacy. But the Democrats wouldn't play ball and threatened to stay out of the state indefinitely, so Walker had to end the logjam. He did, but not as wishful liberals had imagined.

It is very likely more Republican governors will attempt similar changes in their relationships with public-employee unions. Liberals are certain this will all backfire and/or that Walker and some Republican lawmakers will be recalled. We'll see. But here's the thing: If Walker balances the budget, doesn't raise taxes and lures employers to his state, does anyone think the voters will revolt? Success breeds popularity. Walker will need to show results, but for now he's shown spine. And that is a model for Republicans across the country.

Ezra Klein sees a bright side for Wisconsin Democrats and wonders about the legality of the maneuver:

It seems to me that the system worked. Democrats were able to slow the process down and convince both voters in Wisconsin and the national media that there was something beyond business as usual happening in Madison. National and state polls show they were successful in that effort. Walker and the Senate Republicans ignored the Democrats' attempts at compromise and ignored the public turning against them and decided to pass the legislation anyway.

That was their prerogative, and now it's up to the voters to decide whether to recall the eight Senate Republicans who are eligible for judgment this year, and to defeat Walker and the other Republicans in a year or two, when they become vulnerable to a recall election. That's how representative democracy, for better or worse, works. The representatives can make unpopular decisions, but the voters can punish them for it. I thought that during the health-care debate, and I think that now ¿ though I would be interested to see whether any of the conservative voices who were shocked and appalled by President Obama's decision to ignore public opinion and finish health-care reform using the reconciliation process are calling for Walker's head today. If not, I think they need to ask themselves what makes this case different.

As for the legality, this part is a bit murky to me, but there appear to be at least two question: First, did the rewritten bill really count as non-fiscal, and second, did the effort at passage violate Wisconsin's "open meetings" law? You can read Barry Pump struggle through some of these questions here. Then there's the issue of the legislation itself: Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Lagley holds that it violates the state constitution. I simply don't know enough to evaluate any of these claims, but this effort is worth keeping an eye on. And here again, there's a striking similarity to the immediate aftermath of the health-care reform law.

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