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The Recallodrome

Local Issues, Politics

As I'm sure most everyone knows, I'm a Conservative and lifelong Republican, having voted for just two Democrats in my entire voting life. Regardless of that rather obvious bias, the current Romanesque game going on in Wisconsin impels me--against my better judgement--to weigh in on this mess. Let me try to assure you that, regardless of party, I would find the current situation ludicrous in the extreme and dangerous in its implications.

The structure of a Constitutional Republic, under which we currently live, allows democratic control of government with some limitations. The latter are designed, in part, to avoid overreaction by an emotion-driven public. This is the reason for the Electoral College at the Federal level, to prevent an ill-considered knee-jerk reaction by the voters from causing irreparable harm. Defined terms of elected office are another check against intemperate public actions. Once elected, a political office-holder has a set number of years to prove him- or herself worthy of continued service via re-election.

In the rare event of the election of a scoundrel to office who engages in malfeasance, criminality or  grievous moral torpitude, the mechanism of the recall was established, permitting removal of an individual so unfit for public office as to constitute an immediate danger to the public welfare.

What the recall mechanism was not intended for is the removal of an electee with whom some folks disagree or who legally establishes a policy with which some, or even much, of the electorate disagrees. What most definitely was not intended was to enable a special interest to impose its will upon a legislative entity or the public because of real or perceived disadvantage or impairment. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we here in Wisconsin currently face.

Despite all the sound and fury about school funding cuts and the loss of so-called democratic collective bargaining capability for public service unions, there is only one issue involved here. That is simply union dues.

Public service unions constitute a type of oxymoron in that their counterpart is an elected representation rather than a corporate entity. The latter has a vested financial interest and concern in any agreement reached with union representation. It will, therefore, bargain from the strength of corporate financial viability, holding firm against unreasonable union demands.

Public service bargaining on the other hand involves a political element with only indirect financial accountability--the nebulous concern for responsible expenditure of taxpayer funds. The government negotiator experiences no direct financial limitation and so is inclined to appease a voting constituency--the union membership--and give them what they want. This is the fallacy underlying public service union collective bargaining. The brew is further toxified by union political contributions which constitute a clear conflict of interest.

I'm sure most will recall that this all began with the proposal and passage of Act 10, Gov. Walker's mechanism for compensating for large cuts in the public education budget. The cuts were a necessary step in balancing the state budget against a nearly $3 billion structural and contemporary deficit which resulted from years of irresponsible budgeting by a number of administrations, not just Doyle's.

As the old saw goes, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. In this case, limiting public service union power, especially the education unions, was essential since the members were not likely to quietly allow their incomes to be diminished by increases in pension and health care contributions, along with wage limits. The reason for eliminating most of the union collective bargaining power was the thought that they would oppose or simply attempt to reinstate or compensate for any pay-reducing changes through future collective bargaining agreements. This is a somewhat speculative but not unreasonable supposition.

Such a diminishment of union power, coupled with eliminating union dues payroll deductions and recertification requirements, will likely result in a significant decrease in union membership and concurrent loss of dues income. Since public service union membership is essential to the health of a union movement already crippled by the loss of manufacturing jobs, a traditional source of union participation, this move by the Walker administration constitutes a clear and present danger to the entire union movement, with the exception of the UAW and some other niche unions not dependent on public service membership. (Notice that the UAW has remained remarkably silent through this entire controversy.)

Thus, we have the single, overriding issue impelling all this recall activity. Yes, there is hand-wringing over education budget cuts, but that sky did not fall and does not appear in danger of doing so. The majority of school districts, those that did not foolishly enter into union contracts prior to the passage of Act 10, are coping quite well with the cuts to their budget. Unless I'm missing something, that leaves the union issue alone as the driving force behind this avalanche of recalls.

I maintain that this is a dangerous and financially wasteful misuse of the recall mechanism. Dangerous because of the precedent it sets, that any time a special interest with access to the media and sufficient funding sees itself harmed by some legislation, it will attempt to recall key legislators to reverse the policy.

This "recallodrome" presently in progress in Wisconsin may be entertaining to some, but I believe it to be a clear and present danger to the concept of a Constitutional Republic which has served us so well for so long. I would hope wiser heads prevail, but I see little evidence that this will occur. Pity.

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