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An Observation/Question on the Situation in Wisconsin

I have stayed out of the discussion about Wisconsin for a variety of reasons, with a main one being that I didn’t want to jump into what is obviously an ideologically charged discussion without having thought through the situation.  I continue to ruminate, but here’s an issue that I find interesting, especially given the number of pixels spilled of late over the question of public sector unions and their ability to collectively bargain:  if it is a fundamental principle that public sector employees ought not to have the right to collective bargaining, why are the police, firefighters and state troopers of Wisconsin not part of the package?  Why does Governor Walker and his allies believe that those workers ought to be able to retain their collective bargaining rights?

As Channel3000 notes:

Walker’s bill would strip state and local government employees, including teachers, custodians and game wardens, of their ability to collectively bargain everything except their wages.

But the measure carves out a special exemption for local police officers, firefighters and the Wisconsin State Patrol.

[...]

Some police would lose union rights under the bill, including Capitol and University of Wisconsin police. Walker said their work can be covered in the event of a slowdown, while local protection can’t.

When asked why union rights should be any different for police, fire and state inspectors, Walker said that overall there is a different expectation.

“Currently, we’ve had a long tradition and when it comes to fire and police service in the state of Wisconsin. Statutes are very different when it comes to whole series of rights and responsibilities,” Walker said.

This strikes me as a nonsensical non-response.

Now, the fundamental criticism being leveled at Walker is that he is stripping rights from groups that did not support him and allowing groups that did support him to retain theirs.  This is not an unreasonable supposition.

However, I would go beyond that and not ask why Walker is doing what Walker is doing, but rather ask why we have not seen (or, at least, I have not seen) his ideological allies calling for him to include police, firefighters and state troopers in the bill?  If there is a fundamental philosophical issue here concerning public sector unions, what is the possible rationale for any exceptions?

This is not a trick question:  if this is a principled issue, why not complain that the bill doesn’t go far enough?

Related Posts:

About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    You are absolutely correct. If the problem is public unions, who benefit from political raises as well as collective bargaining, then it must apply to all.

    Democratic governors, like our Gov. Brown, face a real problem from all of them.

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  2. Mike Drew says:

    Good question. It will be even more acutely put once Wisconsin Republicans begin to drain away from him and float a two-year suspension of collective bargaining as a compromise solution (as one already has: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703498804576156964112764614.html?mod=WSJ_hp_MIDDLETopStories)

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  3. rick says:

    Those three unions endorsed Walker in the election, so he exempted them from the bill.

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  4. Matt says:

    “Now, the fundamental criticism being leveled at Walker is that he is stripping rights from groups that did not support him and allowing groups that did support him to retain theirs. This is not an unreasonable supposition.”

    Except that it appears that both the Firefighters and Police unions backed his opponent, although the police did donate $1,100 to his campaign.

    OTOH, my wife asked me the same question and I really don’t have a good answer, save one. From a political standpoint, it seems smart not to give the opposition the chance to scream about how he’s undermining public safety and putting everyone in danger of being murdered and/or burned to death. That being said, I don’t disagree that police/fire should share the same sacrifice as the other public unions.

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  5. sam says:

    Kevin Drum:

    The irony here is that when you hear those cherry-picked horror stories of vastly overpaid civil servants (usually the result of overtime abuse of some kind), nine times out of ten it involves a public safety employee. It’s not teachers who get to retire at age 50 and it’s not teachers who end up padding their hours in their last year of work and retiring on 120% of their usual income. Most of the time, it’s police, firefighters, and state troopers.

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  6. Brummagem Joe says:

    Matt says:
    Monday, February 21, 2011 at 10:33

    Doesn’t alter the fact it’s illogical even to a ten year old. The real reason of course is that it’s
    Politically inconvenient if the firefighters go on strike and houses start burning down. It’s so blatanlly ideological which is why it’s going to fail. He’s obviously counting on anti union feeling in the state being sufficiently strong to muscle it through but is this really going to fly in WI?

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  7. legion says:

    Because Walker is being dishonest at a very basic level about the entire thing. He doesn’t want Joe and Jane Voter to realize they’re next.

    If public employees have no labor rights, why should private employees? If the current proposal gets to stand, that _will_ be the argument used by Walker and other GOP governors in the next few years. Guaranteed.

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  8. Herb says:

    “If there is a fundamental philosophical issue here concerning public sector unions, what is the possible rationale for any exceptions?”

    Here’s one: Incentives matter for cops.

    Not so much for teachers…

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  9. Herb says:

    (I’m joking, by the way.)

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  10. wr says:

    Walker dishonest?

    You mean like the little nugget tucked into his budget that gives him the power to sell or give away the state’s power plants at any price he chooses without taking bids?

    http://rortybomb.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/the-less-discussed-part-of-walkers-wisconsin-plan-no-bid-energy-assets-firesales/

    We haven’t seen “democracy” like this since the Politburo divided the ruins of the Soviet Union among themselves. Of course, the moron brigade will call this “freedom” and when their newly privatized heating bills skyrocket, they’ll blame Obama and the unions.

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  11. James Joyner says:

    I don’t know how things are structured in Wisconsin but in the states where I’ve lived — and that’s a lot of states! — police and firefighters are hired by county and municipal governments, not the state. The exception usually being the state troopers and/or highway patrol.

    But, no, there’s no ideologically coherent rationale for excluding state police. Whether there’s a non-petty, practical reason, I haven’t a clue. Most of the debate I’ve seen on this have been on the tactics, not the policy.

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  12. Matt says:

    @legion

    This is one of the reasons this can’t be discussed rationally. Of course public employees have labor rights, whether they belong to a union or not. Many of the reasons that unions came into being have long since been codified into federal and state law. The notion that the evil GOP is trying to go back to the days of the 7-day/14-hour work week is fearmongering at its silliest.

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  13. Stan says:

    One possibility is that Walker, like many libertarians, feels that government’s only legitimate activity is public safety. Another, less charitable explanation, is that he thinks he might have to disperse the demonstrators forcibly, and he wants the police on his side when he does it.

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  14. anjin-san says:

    It’s not teachers who get to retire at age 50 and it’s not teachers who end up padding their hours in their last year of work and retiring on 120% of their usual income. Most of the time, it’s police, firefighters, and state troopers.

    Bingo.

    Maybe it’s time for us to start talking about what is going on with police and firefighter pay/pensions. In the very small, quite and nearly crime free town I lived in a few years back, on of the captains got a full disability pension for “job stress related” health problems. Six weeks later, there was an announcement in the local paper that he had started a business doing security consulting. Guess he was not to ill to work after all. There are literally endless examples of this sort of thing.

    We have abuse in the educatioal arena as well, but it is mostly at the executive level, where it is pretty bad. Rank and file teachers are simply not getting fat, at least none of the ones I know.

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  15. PD Shaw says:

    I think it’s politics, but not crass political favoritism. The last place my city appears to be able to make cuts is in public safety; the unions come forward and essentially say people are going to die. Last week, the union complained that mandatory furloughs for a few firefighters would be devastating in the event of a natural disaster. (I thought that oversold it, but what do I know) And with eight people running for mayor right now, I think every one of them has emphasized protecting public safety personnel as they weed out . . . [drum roll] . . . waste.

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  16. sam says:

    @Matt

    “The notion that the evil GOP is trying to go back to the days of the 7-day/14-hour work week is fearmongering at its silliest.”

    Oh, I dunno: Missouri Republicans Want to Roll Back Federal Child Labor Laws:

    In January, Sen. Mike Lee [R-UT] claimed that federal child labor laws are unconstitutional.

    Congress decided it wanted to prohibit [child labor], so it passed a law—no more child labor. The Supreme Court heard a challenge to that and the Supreme Court decided a case in 1918 called Hammer v. Dagenhardt. In that case, the Supreme Court acknowledged something very interesting — that, as reprehensible as child labor is, and as much as it ought to be abandoned — that’s something that has to be done by state legislators, not by Members of Congress. [...]

    This may sound harsh, but it was designed to be that way. It was designed to be a little bit harsh. Not because we like harshness for the sake of harshness, but because we like a clean division of power, so that everybody understands whose job it is to regulate what.

    Now, we got rid of child labor, notwithstanding this case. So the entire world did not implode as a result of that ruling.

    Currently in Missouri, state Sen. Jane Cunningham (R) is pushing a bill which would remove many of the protections of federal child labor laws from the children of Missouri. From the bill’s official summary:

    This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.</blockquote

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  17. PD Shaw says:

    angin-san, teachers in Illinois have historically been eligible for early retirement at age 55. As I understand it, the state started with a few early retirement provisions for hazardous occupations, and they slowly expanded, union contract by union contract, until half of state and local government workers are in hazardous occupations.

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  18. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    One step at time Dr. Taylor, quick smart rational steps, but one step at a time.

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  19. @James:

    I don’t know how things are structured in Wisconsin but in the states where I’ve lived — and that’s a lot of states! — police and firefighters are hired by county and municipal governments, not the state. The exception usually being the state troopers and/or highway patrol.

    But teachers are hired at the local (district) level as well. And, further, a main state senator (a R fro WI whose name I forget) was on NPR this morning stating that taking collective bargaining away from teachers, et al. was a way to help local governments. He didn’t elucidate, but he said it at least twice,

    I just find all of this ultimately a bit incoherent.

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  20. jwest says:

    “One step at time…” crushing unions underfoot with each step forward.

    No one has forgotten the cops and firefighters, much less exempted them forever, but you can only destroy one evil empire at a time.

    The Death Star is not fully operational.

    Yes, this is a fun time to be a conservative.

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  21. sam says:

    @GA

    “One step at time Dr. Taylor, quick smart rational steps, but one step at a time.”

    You know, GA, if I were you, I’d stay the hell out of these cost-to-the-taxpayer debates. Capice?

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  22. anjin-san says:

    > Yes, this is a fun time to be a conservative.

    Possibly because one can be a complete idiot yet still be welcomed with open arms…

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  23. anjin-san says:

    > angin-san, teachers in Illinois have historically been eligible for early retirement at age 55

    I am completely opposed to the idea of any government workers being able to retire at 55. This is an area that needs to be addressed. That being said, the most egregious abuses I see where I live involve cops, firefighters and executives. I simply don’t see any teachers getting fat off their careers.

    A lot of Democrats feel about the same way that I do. Waker’s scorched earth approach and refusal to sit down with teachers has polarized the issue and vastly reduced the chance to make any actual progress on this issue. Republicans just don’t seem to be able to govern.

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  24. PD Shaw says:

    I’m pretty sure the Wisconsin law applies to local governments as well. Here is a summary of the law from a law firm that specializes in advising local government on compliance. The relevant part:

    “Collective bargaining for local government employees (except for firefighter
    unions, police unions, and deputy sheriff associations, now called public safety
    employees) will be limited to only negotiating on base wage rates. Other wage
    adjustments such as experience steps for payments based upon length of service
    would not be subject to collective bargaining.”

    http://www.ruderware.com/documents/2011SpecialUpdate-CollectiveBargaining.pdf

    I assume a part of the issue is that the state runs the pension and healthcare systems on behalf of local government. As I read it, some of the other reforms on local government practices would apply to public safety employees, it’s just the collective bargaining provisions that are different.

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  25. wr says:

    jwest thinks that cops and firefighters are evil, but slave owners were benevolent daddies helping out the poor and feeble.

    How stupid do you have to be to call yourself a conservative these days?

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  26. anjin-san says:

    You know I still have not hear a peep from the GOP establishment in WI about the cuts in their own pay/benefits that they are stepping up to take to help deal with the crisis.

    > it’s just the collective bargaining provisions that are different.

    But that is kind of the meat on the bone, no? An individual dealing with a large organization has just about zero leverage.

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  27. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    ****You know, GA, if I were you, I’d stay the hell out of these cost-to-the-taxpayer debates. Capice?*** No I don’t Capice. Why is that, Sam.

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  28. mantis says:

    Yes, this is a fun time to be a conservative.

    Yes, we know you conservatives love to see working people suffer as much as possible.

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  29. jwest says:

    “An individual dealing with a large organization has just about zero leverage.”

    Unless the individual is talented or productive and makes money for the large organization, in which case he has tremendous leverage and receives compensation far in excess of what a union would allow him to make.

    The little talked-about truth is that unions prohibit paying the best employees as much as they deserve.

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  30. PD Shaw says:

    angin-san, part of the dynamic here appears to be to take part of the issue of compensation away from the both the employee and the employer, making it a matter of public policy, not contract. For instance, wage increases above CPI must be approved by referendum. Retirement eligibility and multipliers will be pursuant to a state study. The state is setting the standards for contribution to the healthcare system.

    As I read it, the totality undercuts the value of union membership, except for non-compensatory matters (worker safety).

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  31. mantis says:

    Unless the individual is talented or productive and makes money for the large organization, in which case he has tremendous leverage and receives compensation far in excess of what a union would allow him to make.

    jwest thinks the purpose of public school teachers, street cleaners, and such is to make money for their organization. What a moron.

    The little talked-about truth is that unions prohibit paying the best employees as much as they deserve.

    Sounds like someone has a personal grievance.

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  32. sam says:

    @GA

    “No I don’t Capice. Why is that, Sam.”

    Weren’t you on the state payroll for a number of years, subminimum wage, of course?

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  33. anjin-san, have you ever actually made an argument that’s meant to convince anyone to consider or perhaps adopt your poisition or are ad hominem insults to get a chuckle from the choir the full extent of your repertoire?

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  34. [...] and allowing groups that did support him to retain theirs. This is not an unreasonable supposition. An Observation/Question on the Situation in Wisconsin No matter what conservative governors say, the extension of collective-bargaining to public-sector [...]

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  35. mantis says:

    anjin-san, have you ever actually made an argument that’s meant to convince anyone to consider or perhaps adopt your poisition or are ad hominem insults to get a chuckle from the choir the full extent of your repertoire?

    Have you? In the other thread you proclaimed that all taxes are a leftist socialist conspiracy driven by jealousy of rich people. I’m sure you won a lot of converts with that one.

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  36. jwest says:

    Mantis,

    Let’s try to walk through some general concepts together, shall we?

    Now, if in the course of a conversation we discuss what the correct answer is to four apples minus three apples, then in the next example I start discussing five oranges minus two oranges, you need to try to direct your focus on the main exercise – in this example we are talking about arithmetic, specifically subtraction.

    The fact that one example used apples and the other used oranges doesn’t matter to the overall theme. I realize you may think I’m changing things to confuse you, but that’s not my intent.

    Let’s not push the envelope here (oh, not a real “envelope” that you mail things in… I’ll explain that at another time), pick a quiet place and think about what you’ve learned today. Tomorrow, we’ll go over some more advanced exercises.

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  37. wr says:

    Yes, jwest, please explain again why slavery was such a force for good in the world.

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  38. anjin-san says:

    > anjin-san, have you ever actually made an argument that’s meant to convince anyone to consider or perhaps adopt your poisition

    You mean like this one, on this thread?

    I am completely opposed to the idea of any government workers being able to retire at 55. This is an area that needs to be addressed. That being said, the most egregious abuses I see where I live involve cops, firefighters and executives. I simply don’t see any teachers getting fat off their careers.

    A lot of Democrats feel about the same way that I do. Waker’s scorched earth approach and refusal to sit down with teachers has polarized the issue and vastly reduced the chance to make any actual progress on this issue. Republicans just don’t seem to be able to govern.

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  39. [...] think in addition to the fact that these unions endorsed Walker, which is why he may have exempted them from his current union-bashing scheme, there are other [...]

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  40. DRF says:

    Walker has excluded public safety employees either because he is afraid of them (which seems to be the implication of the explanation he has given) or out of pure political favoritism. Either way, it stinks.

    If anything, there would be more reason to restrict the unionization rights of public safety employees, because of the threat to public welfare if they were to go on strike. Excluding them from this bill has no logic to it.

    IN any event, the exclusion of public safety employees from the bill may give rise to a constitutional equal protection objection.

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  41. jwest says:
  42. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    ***Weren’t you on the state payroll for a number of years, subminimum wage, of course?***lol, you have some simple concept about how people pay taxes in my state don’t you.

    lol, beat up on the poor people who make a stand against the special rights sacred public union worker and their guild of forced monetary donation.

    Man if only the private special rights sacred union workers and their guild of forced monetary donation had not driven all of the jobs from my land I could take a stand against the special rights sacred public union workers and their guild of monetary donation on principle alone instead of the fact that my state and it’s people are broke.

    So what your really saying is that I should shut up because I am not your kind victim in this system.

    thought and think make for interesting bedfellows….

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  43. sam says:

    Yeah, I apologize GA — I’m feeling particularly cranky today. You have as much right as any of us to comment on this stuff.

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  44. wr says:

    Good move, GA. The rich say “Hey, poor people, ignore the fact we’ve just transferred the bulk of the nation’s wealth into our own pockets and attack those few who are left in the middle class — they’re you’re real enemy.”

    And you respond: “Those bastards in the middle class have ruined my life.”

    What’s it like to be such a puppet?

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  45. jbc says:

    Workers having a voice at work (whether public or private) through unions is not the cause of state deficits. Just look at a recent map posted by OTB http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/public-employee-bargaining-rights/
    It lists five states (TX, GA, SC,NC and VA) where collective bargaining is “explicitly illegal” for public employees. Each of those states have huge projected deficits as well as most states (TX:$13.4 billion 31.5%; GA:$1.7 billion 10.3%; SC: $877 million 17.4%; NC: $3.8 billion 20.0%; VA: $2.3 billion 14.8%). The GOP is simply using the recession that was caused by Wall Street greed not worker rights, as a phony excuse to attack unions and the working middle class they represent. The GOP is executing a power grab at the behest of the Koch brothers and the uber wealthy (that fund their campaigns) who want to destroy any obstacles to their unprecedented accumulation of wealth. Shame on them. Wake up America. Power to the people.

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  46. sam says:

    Anybody think this looks good?

    Wisconsin’s Democratic state senators went into hiding to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to pass Walker’s agenda. The Senate majority leader, Scott Fitzgerald — who happens to be the brother of the Assembly speaker, Jeff Fitzgerald — believes the governor is absolutely right about the need for draconian measures to cut spending in this crisis. So he’s been sending state troopers out to look for the missing Democrats.

    The troopers are under the direction of the new chief of the state patrol, Stephen Fitzgerald. He is the 68-year-old father of Jeff and Scott and was appointed to the $105,678 post this month by Governor Walker.

    Perhaps the speaker’s/majority leader’s father was a super choice, and the fact that he was suddenly at liberty after having recently lost an election for county sheriff was simply a coincidence that allowed the governor to recruit the best possible person for the job. [Source]

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  47. wr says:

    It looks good in comparison with Walker’s sneaking a piece into the “budget” that allows him to sell state assets to whomever he wants at whatever price without bids.

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  48. PD Shaw says:

    sam, if I were the Senate majority leader, and it didn’t appear that the Democrats were coming back, I would get a court order in Wisconsin and then file it in Illinois to be enforced by Illinois law enforcement. It may not be effective, particularly if they flee to another state, but I’m sure the Senate can compel their attendance by the proper means and then it’s up to the Democrats to put up the chase.

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  49. sam says:

    Uh, PD, the “does this look good” thingy was about the new chief of the state police…

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  50. Dave G says:

    Gov. Walker already asked the Illinois governor to return the Democratic senators, and Gov. Quinn turned him down. He’s making political points off of this, and from the businesses which have moved to Illinois in the wake of Walker’s first 6 weeks.

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  51. PD Shaw says:

    The identity of the chief of state police doesn’t really matter if he goes through the judicial process. Are chiefs of the state police not political hacks, I mean, appointees in other states?

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  52. wr says:

    Shorter PD Shaw — As a conservative, I hate the bootheel of the government, but if those Democrats don’t do what I want we should have the state police arrest them and drag them across state lines. Because that’s freedom!

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  53. PD Shaw says:

    wr, do you have a substantive contribution to any of my comment? Or just ad hominem?

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  54. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    ***Yeah, I apologize GA — I’m feeling particularly cranky today. You have as much right as any of us to comment on this stuff.***You don’t have to apologize, I’m your friend, and we all project more then we want at times.

    ***What’s it like to be such a puppet?***lol………it’s makes me happy….

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  55. sam says:

    @PD

    “The identity of the chief of state police doesn’t really matter if he goes through the judicial process.”

    Does it not strike as somewhat unseemly, though? I mean, here we have the houses of the state’s legislature headed by two brothers, and the father is appointed head of the state police. I’d think, simply as a matter of optics, another choice would have been wiser.

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  56. wr says:

    Sorry, PD, thought you’d be able to see my point — the right keeps screaming about “freedom” when the eeevil fascists try to ensure health care for the citizenry, but when they can’t get what they want they demand their government act like a totalitarian regime, sending police to hunt down opposition politicians.

    Is that clearer now?

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  57. anjin-san says:

    > The identity of the chief of state police doesn’t really matter if he goes through the judicial process. Are chiefs of the state police not political hacks, I mean, appointees in other states?

    So all the talk from the GOP about reform is just kind of a joke? Or is it, once again, reform as punishment of political foes?

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  58. PD Shaw says:

    sam, the judicial process makes all the difference to me. I am comfortable with zealous advocates making their points vigorously against each other, and a third party writing down his conclusions for the world to see. If the Wisconsin state police is bypassing that contest, it’s wrong. If a judicial process is pursued, at the request of the legislative leader, and the court says that he has the legal right, then I believe we are entering an Illinois nullification crisis that I can’t support.

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  59. wr says:

    How is it a nullification crisis if one state doesn’t do what the other state wants?

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  60. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    Anyone starting to see the difference between false charges and actual deeds when in come to a protest yet? just wondering…….

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  61. anjin-san says:

    > eeevil fascists

    wr… I thought you were an eeevil socialist. Or communist.

    And Obama is an eeevil Muslim. Of course now Beck has given us the new menace to America, the “Islamic Socialists”, so perhaps Obama is one of them already. I am sure he is fast tracked in these situations…

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  62. [...] blogger and Troy University professor Stephen L. Taylor wrote that it is “not an unreasonable supposition” that Walker is rewarding the firemen and policemen [...]

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  63. sam says:

    PD, frankly, I don’t understand what the hell you’re talking about. E.g., what does this mean:

    “If a judicial process is pursued, at the request of the legislative leader, and the court says that he has the legal right, then I believe we are entering an Illinois nullification crisis that I can’t support.”

    How the devil did we get to, I guess from that, nullification? And anyway, I was not talking about whether he’d be procedurally correctly tapped and vetted. I was talking about the politics of the thing. My point was that, from a political perspective, with his two sons heading the two houses of the legislature, it don’t look too real good for him to have been appointed head of the state police. The optics aren’t good– esp. given that he’d lost an election immediately prior to his appointment.

    Nullification????

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  64. [...] and firefighters. If busting unions is so important to fiscal stability, why exclude them, as libertarian blogger Steven Taylor asks: However, I would go beyond that and not ask why Walker is doing what Walker is doing, but [...]

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  65. [...] Yesterday, my colleague Steven Taylor asked a perfectly reasonable question: “If it is a fundamental principle that public sector employees ought not to have the right to collect…” [...]

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  66. [...] recent actions in Wisconsin aimed at passing bills targeting select unions (only those didn’t support Walker) and attempting to deny them collective bargaining rights are merely the latest step in this long [...]

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  67. Sally says:

    If teachers call in sick en masse, school gets canceled. If firefighters and police call in sick en masse, people die. And don't say that's oversimplifying the situation or undervaluing the teachers and other public servants. If you came home from a general strike that included firefighters and police and found your house burning and your child trapped inside, would you still support the strike? 

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  68. @Sally: so isn’t that an argument for curtailing the rights of the police and firefighters’ unions, not the other way around?

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