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Barack Obama's presidency

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Wisconsin's Right-Wing Radical

By Lisa Pease
February 23, 2011

Editor’s Note: When Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker was told that right-wing billionaire David Koch was calling, Walker got on the line and eagerly explained his strategy for leading a movement that would humble public employees’ unions across the United States.

Walker even joked about taking a baseball bat to his Democratic opponents. Only later did he learn that his caller wasn’t his financial backer David Koch but an impersonator who later released a recording of the conversation on the Internet.

Walker’s boasting about his ideological schemes is just the latest evidence that his legislative assault on labor unions is not about saving money, but is really about giving Republicans even a greater financial advantage in upcoming elections, an anti-democratic strategy that Lisa Pease addresses:

It’s not just Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recent efforts to strip public employees of their right to collectively bargain that have citizens of his state outraged. Walker is nothing short of a radical hell-bent on privatizing the public sector of Wisconsin.

Last year, he exhibited similar dictatorial tendencies in his immediately previous role as a Milwaukee County Executive when he proposed laying off 27 security guards working for Milwaukee County and replacing them with nonunion private employees.

When the County Board nixed his proposal, Walker unilaterally pushed it through anyway, citing a budgetary emergency. He laid off the workers, and hired new ones through a $1.1 million contract with the UK-based security firm Wackenhut.

And the problems compounded. The head of the newly constituted security force, Chad H. Wegener, turned out to have five misdemeanor convictions. A criminal complaint had also been filed against Wegener for drunk and disorderly conduct and for making unwelcome sexual advances on his male subordinates. Wegener was dismissed. 

Walker’s staff had calculated the privatization of the guards would save the County more than $750,000. Months later, that estimate had been revised down to $411,000. And now, even those savings will be lost, as an arbitration board ruled in January that Walker acted improperly and the guards have to be rehired, with back pay costing as much as $430,000, a net loss for the County, thanks to Walker’s rash, unilateral act.

It doesn’t appear that the county will appeal the ruling.

Walker had also forced the layoff of nine airport employees, also in the name of a budgetary emergency. Supervisor John Weishan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, however, that the layoffs hadn’t saved the county any money and were really aimed at punishing the county union officials who had not bowed to Walker’s demands for concessions.

Walker’s latest battles were triggered by his budget bill, which includes provisions to dramatically reduce public union bargaining rights. But now that protests have shed light on the bill, activists in Wisconsin are continuing to discover other disturbing provisions of the bill.

One provision would give the Governor power to change Medicaid in the state with little input from the public. According to the Wisconsin State Journal on Feb. 20, under the bill, 50,000 people could lose coverage while others could face increased rates and reduced benefits.

New power to revise fees and benefits paid would be handled solely by the Legislature’s budget committee instead of the full legislature.

And still, it gets worse.

This same bill also proposes to privatize state-owned power plants. This same plan had been proposed -- and defeated -- in 2005. Opponents had successfully argued that such a move would raise the cost of energy, because once sold, there’d be no way to maintain control over prices.

It’s no wonder that the Koch brothers – the billionaire owners of the Kansas-based energy company Koch Industries – are backing Walker to the hilt, and have even opened a lobbying office in Madison just a block from the Wisconsin state capitol.

While some have speculated their goal in backing this legislation is to buy the soon-to-be-privatized power stations, others see a more sinister scenario: overseeing the dismantling of as much government and publicly controlled property as possible as a matter of principle.

This is not even about money. This is a raw power play to thwart democratic power on all fronts.

The battle of Wisconsin should be of concern to all who value American traditions of democracy, transparency, a multi-party system that requires negotiation and compromise.

The only other option is to let one person run the show. Having trouble deciding? Just ask the Egyptians how that worked for them.

Lisa Pease is a historian and writer who specializes in the mysteries of the John F. Kennedy era.  

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