It seems like only yesterday that progressives were warning us about “politicizing the judiciary.” That was after Iowa’s voters declined last November to retain three Supreme Court justices who had ruled to overturn the state’s marriage law. Today, after a feverish and expensive campaign by unions to remove conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, you’ll hear no such talk. With last Tuesday’s election between Judge Prosser and liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg possibly headed for a recount, the progressive view can be summarized as follows: “Take that, Walker!”
That would be Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who signed a law on March 11 ending much of collective bargaining for the government employee unions that are bankrupting the state. The fight over the bill was a media bonanza, with Senate Democrats storming out and holing up in Illinois, angry mobs occupying the capitol in Madison, a government school teacher walkout, and multiple threats for retribution against GOP lawmakers.
After the law passed, the unions turned their attention to the April 5 Supreme Court election, throwing “judicial independence” to the winds. They reasoned, correctly, that flipping Justice Prosser’s seat to the liberal Ms. Kloppenburg could create a 4-3 liberal majority that could undo what Mr. Walker and the GOP legislature had wrought.
The unions pulled out all stops, holding rallies and pouring big bucks into TV and radio ads. Local 882 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) ran an anti-Prosser TV ad on its Facebook site. Likewise, AFSCME Local 1942 at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics ran anti-Prosser articles on its website and urged union members to vote for Ms. Kloppenburg. With conservative and business groups ponying up as well for a countercampaign supporting Justice Prosser, the normally boring judicial election brought out 1.5 million voters, or nearly double the usual tally. Ms. Kloppenburg originally appeared to win by a couple hundred votes. Now thousands of votes mistakenly left out of one county’s total have given Justice Prosser a commanding lead.
As with the unsavory behavior caught on tape in the capitol, the unions have sometimes strayed dangerously close to thuggery. AFSCME Council 24 issued letters to businesses in southeast Wisconsin warning them to put a pro-union sign up in their windows or else.
The letter says, “Failure to do so will leave us no choice but [to] do a public boycott of your business. And sorry, neutral means ‘no’ to those who work for the largest employer in the area and are union members.”
There’s nothing immoral about boycotts per se. They’re a way that consumers can inform businesses that they don’t like something the business has done. But this went beyond that and entered the realm of “do something for us or else.” However, the strong-arming backfired.
Dawn Bobo, who owns the Village Dollar store in Union Grove, was asked by union members to post a pro-union placard. A few weeks after her refusal, she received the AFSCME letter. Instead of caving, she put up her own sign, saying, “We Support Union Grove, Not Bully Tactics.” Glen Cayemberg, co-owner of Grove Insurance, told a local newspaper that he, too, got a boycott letter even though his firm had never been asked to display a union poster.
After Ms. Bobo’s plight was publicized, she told Fox News on April 1 that her business had quadrupled. Other businesses reported similar upticks. Customers were coming in from all over, including from Illinois, to show support.
What’s happening in Wisconsin is a harbinger for the nation. Amid growing fear that our country is being dragged over a fiscal cliff, the union-led left is pursuing a double-edged strategy: Make public noises that bipartisan reforms are needed while doing whatever is necessary to remove anyone who might actually effect such reforms. Along the way, accuse the GOP of plotting to kick the elderly into the snow and snatch pacifiers out of babies’ mouths.
In a way, Wisconsin is the new California; trends that start there wind up all over the country. Wisconsin is home to uber-liberals like Sen. Herb Kohl and former Sen. Russ Feingold, but also to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, whose “Path to Prosperity” plan trims $6.2 trillion from Barack Obama’s budget over the next 10 years. Unlike the series of continuing resolutions that take tiny nips at the $1.6 trillion deficit, Mr. Ryan’s plan takes on the major problem of entitlements. It will be the focus of pitched battles in Congress and set the stage for 2012.
Wisconsin is also the place where multiple recall efforts are under way against Democrats and Republicans. Eight senators in both parties have been targeted, and petitioners have gathered enough signatures to put one Democrat and one Republican on a recall ballot. Recall of some kind is available in 32 states (see recalltherogues.org) and officeholders are starting to feel the sting.
On March 15, Miami-Dade County voters in Florida cast a remarkable 88 percent of ballots to recall Republican Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who had raised property taxes 13 percent for two-thirds of county homeowners.
As the New York Post editorialized, “He rewarded his political base - public-employee unions, who pushed for tax hikes rather than spending cuts - by raising their members’ pay and unfreezing some benefits. All this at a time when tax revenues had sunk by 25 percent, unemployment hit more than 12 percent and home foreclosures soared. Little wonder that voters were furious.”
Had you heard about the recall in Miami? It was just a speed bump in a national media that reflexively portrays public-employee unions as unselfish defenders of the common good.
As America struggles to shed the bonds of a left-wing establishment that brooks no dissent and means to keep its hegemony over the public purse, Wisconsin’s battles from the courthouse to the governor’s mansion show, at the least, that there is plenty of life left in the old republic.
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a Washington Times columnist.