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September 15, 2012 8:50 AM Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law Overturned … For Now

By Ben Jacobs

A county court judge in Madison, Wisconsin threw out much of Act 10, Wisconsin’s controversial collective bargaining law yesterday. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel explains the ruling:

The law remains largely in force for state workers, but for city, county and school workers the decision by Dane County Judge Juan Colas returns the law to its status before Walker signed the legislation in March 2011.
Colas ruled that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights to free speech, free association and equal representation under the law by capping union workers’ raises but not those of their nonunion counterparts. The judge also ruled that the law violated the “home rule” clause of the state constitution by setting the contribution for City of Milwaukee employees to the city pension system rather than leaving it to the city and workers.

While some liberals may celebrate this as a victory in that state’s manichean struggle between supporters and opponents of the right of public sector workers to unionize, it may prove counterproductive in the long term. The case will eventually be appealed to the state’s Republican leaning Supreme Court, which is likely to return to the status quo. In the meantime, it is likely to only stir up outrage in the Badger State.

Regardless of what one thinks about Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law, voters have already repeatedly weighed on it. The state has seen recall elections for Governor, for about a third of the seats in its state senate as well as a passionately contested race for the State Supreme Court. These have all been portrayed as referendums on Act 10 and the results have given a narrow, but decisive advantage to Walker and his allies.

Voters worn out by nearly two years of back and forth on collective bargaining are not likely to view the judge’s decision kindly. It represents a court usurping the settled will of Wisconsin voters. This is likely to produce a backlash in November. Paul Ryan’s presence on the Republican ticket has already helped the GOP in Wisconsin. Combined with this decision, it could be enough for Romney to pull off an upset in the normally Democratic leaning state on Election Day.

Ben Jacobs is a journalist living in New York. He is a former reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and contributor to the Boston Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @bencjacobs.

Comments

  • buckyblue on September 15, 2012 10:01 AM:

    The case will likely end up at the State Scotus and be upheld, so even though this would directly affect me, I'm not jumping up and down. As for the recall election, the main issue seemed to be that a good portion of the electorate simply didn't like the idea of a recall. A third of union households voted for Walker. I hadn't thought about the impact in November, but I think it depends on how the unions react to this. I spoke with our union president last night, and she was pretty subdued, knowing the realities of what will probably happen at the state SC. If some locals take this as an opportunity to demand concessions from some very, very financially strapped local gov'ts and school districts, you may be right. I just don't see that happening, though.

  • c u n d gulag on September 15, 2012 10:11 AM:

    I can certainly see your point, Ben, but it might work out the other way, as well.

    Here are a couple of reasons why.

    First, the turn-out at this years election, it being a Presidential one, will dwarf the one in 2010 - and certainly higher than the one held earlier this year - though turn-out was pretty good at that one.

    So, people who (might) support unions, but voted for
    Walker in 2010 - since he never made completely squashing them one of his central campaign issues - may come out this time and vote for President Obama and the local Democrats.

    Second, though the WI SC may eventually overturn this judges ruling, in the meantime, people will be exposed to the logic for overturning what the elected officials had wrought.

    Now, maybe I'm overly optimistic in my thinking, but, every once in awhile when the piece of bread with the butter on it falls to the floor, it DOES land butter-side up.

    Just not often enough.

  • mrgavel on September 15, 2012 10:12 AM:

    Not being from Wisconsin I hesitate to comment on this post, but there is an assumption that the writer is making and that is that voters in WI see the recall votes as being the same as a vote on the legislation itself. I don't know if that is the case, and I don't think the writer of this post knows either.

    As the commentator above pointed out, there is evidence to suggest that voters were reluctant to remove a governor by recall when there was no evidence that the governor in question had done anything that was criminal. In other words, it may be that voters don't think that recall should be used as a another political weapon.

    As an Ohio resident I have always wondered why WI Dems didn't go for a referendum on the legislation itself. I have always assumed that it wasn't available, but I don't know that for sure.

    In any event, I think that this won't lead to WI going R this November in the presidential race. That race, both in WI and nationally, will come down to turnout. If the turnout is like it was in 2010 then Romney can win, but if it more closely resembles 2008, then Obama will win. It really is that simple.

  • sjay on September 15, 2012 11:06 AM:

    I think the political factors have been well discussed above. It needs to be pointed out that the judge's decision was based on constitutional grounds so it really doesn't matter from the perspective of what the judge should do as to whether the voters are behind the law or not. I haven't read the opinion, so I don't know if the decision was well-reasoned or not, but the opinion of the voters is really irrelevant if constitutional rights have been violated.

  • Josef K on September 15, 2012 11:08 AM:

    Leaving aside the electoral politics, can we keep two things in mind here?

    One, the Judiciary is the third branch of government, and its job is to make rulings on cases brought before it (whether the voters are 'tired' of an issue or not).

    Two, Act 10 represented a naked injustice against public employees, and damn well should be overturned.

    I don't put much stock in Paul Ryan's presence on the ticket helping him, nor read overmuch into the recall results. We'll have to see what happens over the next seven weeks.

  • cwolf on September 15, 2012 11:31 AM:

    Screw Wisconsin.
    All WI Dems should just move to nearby Purple states & tip them into the blue.
    Let craptistic Wisconsin simply become the Mississippi of the north.

  • Sean Scallon on September 15, 2012 11:49 AM:

    "Regardless of what one thinks about Wisconsinís collective bargaining law, voters have already repeatedly weighed on it."

    Not necessarily. Being from Wisconsin I think I can safely say most voters who were not hardcore partisans either way voted for Walker because they felt he deserved to serve the full term he was elected for in 2010. To them there was no compelling reason to remove him given he was not under indictment (but he is under investigation) nor charged with any malfeasance in office.

    Besides, Tom Barrett, his opponent never made collective bargaining an central issue in his campaign and one could argue the Democrats re-taking the state Senate may well have reflected the voters true feelings on the Budget Act. How this court decision plays out in the fall election is anyone's guess but I doubt it will influence much of anything either way.

  • Rick Keir on September 15, 2012 12:21 PM:

    "Regardless of what one thinks about Wisconsinís collective bargaining law, voters have already repeatedly weighed on it."

    You've taken in too much right wing spin. THREE Republican Senators were tossed from office in the recall elections. As for the Governor's race, the Republicans spent a $59 million against $22 million by the Democrats to achieve virtually the same margin against the same Democrat that he'd beaten less than two years earlier.

    Just because we didn't toss Walker doesn't mean "the voters" support him. At best, it means that his thin margin of support didn't change when the Democrats re-nominated an opponent whose own record on labor was very weak.

  • Tomm Undergod on September 15, 2012 2:50 PM:

    "Weighed in repeatedly" my fanny! And apart from that obviously wrong claim, there's the question of whether Right and Wrong, Lawful and Unlawful are best decided by majority vote, or whether villainous acts can legitimately become victorious by wearing out the opposition.

    Sounds like about the same argument that says DC is gridlocked so we must elect the idiot party or the stalemate will continue. They broke the economy and refuse to allow anyone to fix it, so they should be put in charge or it will stay broken. Good plan. And they deserve pity because these matricides and patricides are orphans, right?

    Concern trolls and handwringing and wholesale purchase of the Lie of the Day from the soon to be dead and buried Pig Party is hardly the way to help separate the two visions currently on offer for this country's future. Ann Coulter votes illegally and, IOKIYAR. A Dum gets turfed out of a political race the moment her perfidy is detected, and woe betide the non-insane. Anything BushCo did that Obama does used to be laudadable but is now treasonous because, after all, Dumbo "kept us safe" (except for 9/11, which does not count), but if a Dum, openly and cleanly elected by the masses rather than a hired court, had been in charge the howling would still be going on.

    Lots of stuff to smite Obomba over, but let the other side do it in their uniquely tone deaf and incompetent way. And can't we agree that for the next couple of months, we can stfu with such idiotic handwringing as the kinds of posts this author seems to traffic in?

    Or is that too much to ask at a time when Repeated, Urgent, Unambiguous, Multi-Sourced warnings of an imminent attack are now known to have been ignored by the lying-sack ideologues of today's unprecedentedly disloyal opposition?

    These are people whose secret agenda must be denied, who cannot win with honest arguments, who cannot win without cheating, who do not believe that the Democracy they drool over is based on the principle of letting the people decide because the people ARE the government, not it's victims.

    Then again, all that does make sense if you think working on a partisan political, voting to send other people's children to war, and blogging from the minefields of Lower Manhattan shows true patriotism because letting anyone express any views other than your own is despotism pure and simple. When the only legitimate action of elected officials is to destroy the country's credit rating and bankrupt the bulk of its long-established institutions for partisan victory rather than national survival, something is seriously wrong.

    And when professional "journalists" join in the fray by giving aid and comfort to lying insurgents, the poison has spread further than headlines indicate on a daily basis. It's certainly not the type of brain-dead analysis and so-called insight that one comes to this site to obtain.

  • DiTurno on September 15, 2012 3:55 PM:


    Previous commenters have already demolished this post, but I'll weigh in: the idea that a ruling by a county judge might be able to push Wisconsin to Romney is pretty silly.

  • Stu Levitan on September 15, 2012 5:48 PM:

    No offense, but please remind me how a journalist living in NY, without any evident knowledge of Wisconsin politics or people, without citing any Wisconsin sources, knows what is "likely" to happen. Having lived here since the late 70s, and being pretty involved in politics, I think it is more likely the ruling will energize union activists and their allies. (And by the way, the Hon. Juan Colas is a "Circuit Court Judge," not a county court judge.")

  • Jack Schroeder on September 15, 2012 9:29 PM:

    In his initial run for governor, Mr. Walker kept his attack plan a secret until after he won. The voters can not be said to have supported an agenda that was kept hidden from them.

    Wisconsin Democrats regained control of the state senate by pushing out three of the Governor's supporters in three different areas of the state. That would seem to be a clear opposition to his anti-union effort. Rep. Ryan will likely be re-elected to the House of Representatives.

  • Black Brant on September 16, 2012 8:37 PM:

    Ben, chill out. It's not like you to suddenly join the ranks of the "pearl clutchers".

    Most people who voted again for Walker in the recall were actually taking the recall literally - a sitting governor was only to be recalled in the case of criminal actions - and Walker (so far) has not been even accused directly of such actions. It doesn't mean they actually like the guy- they just weren't really enthused with the same opponent he faced in the '10 election as an alternative. Barrett wasn't exactly a guy that would catch the imagination of the electorate, let alone be a guy the unions would run through brick walls for. He's a nice enough guy, and certainly heroic, but not exactly an inspiring speaker or innovative politician.

    Walker got lucky twice, and has his luck magnified by the presence of BIG MONEY in the form of the Koch Bros., et al. It may not save him the next time; Wisconsin is getting wise to this man's act.

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