"I'm not going to lie to you, this is going to get ugly." So predicts "Goldfish," a Daily Kos blogger who boasts of spending two weekends in Madison, Wisc., "on the Front Lines of the Class War." Now, "Goldfish" is predicting a general strike, like the ones in Greece whenever the bankrupt government tries to cut ruinous spending.
A bigger fish, film director Michael Moore, announced on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Wednesday that, "This is war. This is class war," and that a national walkout of government school students would happen Friday. Jesse Jackson told Fox News that public unions will retain collective bargaining or "you're going to have it through the streets. People here will fight back because they think their cause is moral."
Moral? Public employee unions are bankrupting local and state governments, including Wisconsin's. They have it cushier than the folks who are taxed to pay for it all. A Spectrum Research Group report found that public employees make up 15 percent of the work force but lay claim to more than a third of the nation's $9.3 trillion in pension assets. Many retire in their 50s and then double-dip with new jobs.
Union members have been demonstrating in Madison for days, but became enraged Wednesday when the Republican Senate finally bypassed the 14 AWOL Democratic senators holed up in Illinois and voted to send GOP Gov. Scott Walker's budget reform bill to the House. The law, which the House quickly passed and Mr. Walker signed, requires state employees to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to pensions and 12.6 percent to health care benefits, which is still less than most private employees pay.
The part that ignites the mobs is the end of collective bargaining on anything except wages for most public employee unions. This fixes a glaring conflict of interest: Unions use workers' dues to elect politicians who give them more and more. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, it's a great scam - if you can keep it.
After the vote, screaming demonstrators broke into the capitol and occupied it until police ousted them Thursday. Republicans returning to vote had to have police protection. Apparently, the civility memos that the Obama administration and the me-dia sent to peaceful Tea Party activists didn't make it to the union mobs.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is investigating death threats against Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Republican Sen. Dan Kapanke. Here's an excerpt of an e-mail sent to Mr. Fitzgerald, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
"This is how it's going to happen: I as well as many others know where you and your family live, it's a matter of public records. We have all planned to assault (sic) you by arriving at your house and putting a nice little bullet in your head. ..."
If that isn't "civil" enough, here's the e-mail threat against Mr. Kapanke:
"We will hunt you down. We will slit your throats. We will drink your blood. I will have your decapitated head on a pike in the Madison town square. This is your last warning."
If nothing else, this shows that the nation's obsession with vampires may have gone too far, spilling out of young adult sections of bookstores and into the streets.
All humor aside, this is anything but funny for these senators and their families.
A more civilized struggle is being waged on a different chessboard. Petition drives are under way for all 16 state senators - eight Republicans and eight Democrats - eligible for recall. (For more information, see recalltherogues.org.) Wisconsin is one of 18 states with broad recall laws. Badger state officials serve at least a year before being eligible.
Petitioners have 60 days to collect 25 percent of the votes cast in the senators' districts during the last gubernatorial election. Special elections would be held six weeks later, pitting the senator against a candidate who collects 400 signatures.
Only two Wisconsin state legislators have ever been recalled. But in 2002, a pension scandal triggered a recall of seven Milwaukee County supervisors and gave rise to a new, budget-cutting county executive - Scott Walker. The unions want to recall Mr. Walker as well, but he will serve a year before being eligible.
With both sides pouring in money and volunteers, this recall contest could prove to be one of the hottest political shows this summer. The Washington Post reported Thursday that unnamed liberal groups say they have raised $2 million already. Since the best defense is a good offense, Republicans might consider not only matching that but expanding the recall to include Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. In 1997, Wisconsin's secretary of state approved a pro-life recall petition against Sen. Russ Feingold and Mr. Kohl. Although the effort fell short, it set the precedent that Wisconsin's recall law covers U.S. senators.
Working on the GOP side are volunteers like Marilyn Kruchell, a great-grandmother from Milwaukee who became an activist 10 years ago when she became disgusted with the Milwaukee Democratic machine's cronyism. She's been a Scott Walker fan ever since, and when Mrs. Kruchell lost Arthur, her husband of 51 years, last November, Mr. Walker quietly slipped into a pre-funeral event to pay his respects.
A Tea Party member, Mrs. Kruchell, 73, is doing whatever she can to support Mr. Walker. The union mobs disgust her but don't faze her. She planned this weekend to go to an inner city Milwaukee restaurant with a friend and put a sign on a table saying: "Republicans who want to talk." A white woman with black friends, she thinks the Democrats have taken black people for granted too long.
As for the increasingly violent clash with public-employee unions, she sees Wisconsin as a bellwether: "If we don't win this, America is going to be done soon."
Robert Knight is a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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