Wisconsinites have been on a whirlwind ride since the election of Scott Walker as governor; it began even before he was sworn in when he began the process that is unfolding now. He has taken on the challenge of restoring fiscal sanity to Wisconsin and has a Republican majority in the Senate and the Assembly that has, so far, appeared to be supportive.
The bombast we have experienced is to be expected given the magnitude of the changes being debated and likely to be voted upon today or early tomorrow. Politically, the proposed changes are red meat to both sides of the aisle. We have seen school closings growing as members of the state teachers unions stage ‘sick outs’ to the extent that they are crippling their districts’ ability to continue to keep classrooms functioning. We have seen very large gatherings of opponents and smaller gatherings of proponents at hearings.
Local officials have to be watching closely since the happenings signal significant change in school districts, villages, cities and counties. The biggest changes look to be in retirement plan funding and health plan funding. But, the changes being discussed for the collective bargaining community are very significant; significant to the point of neutering collective bargaining in the public sector, other than for the civil service rules that will continue to exist.
While it is easy for supporters to be excited about what is seen as the ‘taking back’ of control from strong unions and while our state has gotten to a place that simply is no longer sustainable financially, we do need to be capable of some critical thinking about these goings on. I met with a public sector group yesterday and the coming changes were part of that discussion. The person with whom I was meeting said that he agreed that the pendulum had swung to the extreme left but that he was concerned, at the same time, that the corrections weren’t going to be just as damaging by swinging the pendulum too far to the right. His concern was voiced as the administrator of a school district who finds himself between a board and the union, and took into account the day-to-day working relationships with the teachers in that district.
We have, unfortunately, gotten to the point where it is “taxpayers vs. unions” and that pits friends and even family members against each other. Our political structure is quite a black and white picture with fewer shadings of gray to be found, and that has led us to the strident posturing we have been witnessing in the past few days and weeks.
The phrase “blood sport” is used to describe life in the political world. Let us be mindful that should not be taken literally but simply as a reference to the rough and tumble that goes on every day to one degree or another. The use of students to advance the teachers’ positions is improper. Union members must be mindful that their comportment will be remembered for some time to come. Closing schools to make a point is counter-productive to the very members who see this as their exercising of their “rights”. It simply erodes any good faith that might’ve existed.
We will have to live and work together when this is decided. We will have to find ways to make that partnership productive or the schism will widen rather than heal itself with the passing of time. If we permit ourselves the luxury of hate or revenge, we will have all lost. Change such as this is difficult enough without the distortions of high emotion involved.