Friday, March 4, 2011

Watching the deceptive:
Wisconsin, Ohio and Washington state

What cynics might characterize as the Collective Bargaining Deathwatch is still going on in Wisconsin. The latest tactic by the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, is to sign arrest warrants for the 14 AWOL Democratic senators Walker needs to return from their secret undisclosed location in Illinois, in order to attain a quorum needed to continue his attempted dismantling of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s 170,000 state workers.

How Walker hopes to enforce arrest warrants across state lines without a court order is anyone’s guess; Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has already said the 14 senators can stay in his state as long as they like. But we’ll let that go for now.

What can’t be so easily dismissed is the move by the lawmakers in Ohio’s state Senate, who voted Wednesday to pass SB 5, a bill restricting collective bargaining for the state’s 300,000 public-sector employees. The bill moves to the heavily-Republican Ohio House, and from there to the desk of John Kasich, former mushwit Fox News personality and current governor, who is certain to sign it into law if it reaches his desk.

A sorry-ass state of affairs for anyone who cares about something that’s been a basic right of American workers for generations. The outcome in Wisconsin remains uncertain, and it may be up in the air whether Ohio will make the fateful move. Some political observers think that a handful of state House  Republicans may actually vote against their own party and reject SB 5. Time will tell.

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Other states may be poised for similar legislative drama in the coming months; the issue of public workers’ rights could be a major campaign issue in 2012 at every level from the presidential to the statehouse.

But next year is a gubernatorial election year in Washington state, and while most of the media oxygen concerning collective bargaining is being consumed on states east of the Mississippi, this West Coast bastion of liberalism may be in the GOP crosshairs.

The Stranger, the reliably progressive Seattle altweekly, sounded an early warning this week with a long analysis of the forthcoming race in Washington state, and a pithy examination of Rob McKenna, the state attorney general expected to run for governor next year.

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For seven years now, McKenna has largely skirted criticism from Democrats and independent voters alike by maintaining a sunny, centrist aspect in his role as Washington state’s top cop, placing image distance between himself and his party’s more ravenously intolerant members back east.

McKenna has promoted himself as the face of moderate Republicanism, speaking in wonkish, high-minded, non-ideological terms about his hopes for Washington state. His smiley-face style of GOP identity has swayed many in the state outside his party. “Hell,” people think to themselves, “his daughter’s a Democrat, how bad can he be?”

David (Goldy) Goldstein, who wrote the Stranger’s analysis, hopes to enlighten. McKenna, the Stranger writer reveals, has been anything but moderate in his politics on collective bargaining. The Stranger piece is a cautionary tale of how Washington state could be a battleground over public workers rights just in time for next year’s vote.

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Reading the piece, we discover the Rob McKenna who in October told the Snohomish County Republican Women’s Club that “the grassroots movement reflected in the Tea Party is exactly what this country is about.” We find out about McKenna’s ardent efforts against the health-care reform law passed last year — a law that would benefit millions of Washington citizens.

We find out McKenna’s brand of joyously ruthless Republicanism even preceded his time as attorney general:

As a [King County] councilman, on five separate occasions, McKenna refused to approve collective bargaining agreements between the county and public workers, opposing contracts with animal control officers, social workers, and others. He led efforts to prevent the county from doing business with union shops, bizarrely disparaging as "racist and sexist" an ordinance requiring the county to hire union apprentices. In 1998, McKenna even voted against a motion that urged an employer to (gasp) "bargain with its employees in good faith" and innocuously supported the "fair treatment of workers." And while McKenna likes to talk the talk on government spending, as chair of the council's budget committee in 2001, he proposed swiping money from a fund set aside to pay scheduled raises to unionized workers while actually increasing spending.

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Then McKenna became AG:

As attorney general, McKenna has continued his efforts to undermine unions, and in a very prominent manner. ... McKenna's first appearance before the US Supreme Court was an appeal of a state supreme court ruling that had granted teachers' unions the right to use members' dues for political purposes. After the Bush-packed conservative court overturned the state ruling, McKenna hailed the decision as an "extremely important" precursor that "clears the way" for new legislation to enact further restrictions of union political spending.

Clearly, there’s every reason to believe that McKenna’s nothing less than a rank ideologue in centrist’s clothing.

You have to feel for the voters of Wisconsin, who voted for Scott Walker last November and who since then have discovered the dark hidden agenda he had for the state’s public workers. Never mind Wisconsin’s storied past as a trailblazer for workers’ rights (the DNA for collective bargaining as a national phenomenon basically originated in the Badger State). Walker is poised to undo as much of that history as he can get away with.

Voters in Washington state can only hope to stop that anti-union juggernaut in its tracks next year. Thanks to Goldstein, they can’t say they haven’t been warned.

This is a politician who will clearly say anything to win election, but voters of all stripes should have no illusions about what McKenna will try to do once elected. He will work against the interests of working Washingtonians and for the interests of his big-business corporate patrons. And just like his Wisconsin counterpart, if elected governor and given the opportunity, he would crush organized labor in a New York minute ... while patiently explaining to reporters in his trademark dry, dispassionate, pseudogeeky manner that he was doing anything but.

Image credits: Ohioans gather to protest SB 5: jmknapp via YouTube. The Stranger cover, art element: © 2011 Index Publications. McKenna portrait: Washington state via The Stranger. McKenna at microphone: KCTS Television.

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