Governor’s divisive politics hurting Wisconsin | submitted by Marty Beil

How many more examples do we need to prove that Gov. Scott Walker’s divisive brand of governing is hurting Wisconsin’s brand in the marketplace?

His radical attempt to sweep away more than five decades of labor-management cooperation touched off a popular uprising of historic proportions. But Wisconsin’s reaction to the governor’s bait and switch shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Wisconsin history and our ingrained belief in fair play.

He premised his attack on worker rights with the deeply offensive and wildly inaccurate portrayal of public employees as the “haves” and everybody else as “have nots.” Does he really believe a correctional officer putting his life on the line daily for $11 an hour is one of the “haves”? Or is Walker just setting up straw men to further his power-grabbing agenda?

The governor’s overreach swats away court orders, as an order to re-open access to the state Capitol continues to be ignored by his administration. This means visitors to the people’s house now must run a gauntlet of locked doors and tense guards to visit their elected representatives. And it took three increasingly emphatic court orders to bring Walker’s palace guard to a heel as it tried to ignore a temporary restraining order on the governor’s rights-stripping budget repair bill.

Even the come-from-nowhere surge of an unknown lawyer against an old political pro and sitting Supreme Court justice is dismissed by Walker in insulting and divisive language. Trying to explain why JoAnne Kloppenburg’s astonishing vote totals were not a reflection of his own unpopularity, the governor offers this:

“You’ve got a world driven by Madison, and a world driven by everybody else.” Never mind that Kloppenburg won in nearly half of Wisconsin’s counties, with 84% of her support coming from outside Madison – the governor seems to have no answers that don’t pit average Wisconsinites against each other.

So now we are a state known for mass protests, recalls, and maybe now a recount. Instead of moving us forward, the governor has mired the state in painful and costly conflicts. Welcome to Scott Walker’s state of paralysis.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Walker launched his budget repair bill with union-bashing provisions shortly after taking office, but he had never mentioned his intentions with regard to collective bargaining during his two-year campaign for governor, and union members and their representatives clearly signaled that they would accept all of the economic concessions the governor was seeking – but would not go along with the evisceration of their rights.

A politician who was interested in moving the state forward, instead of increasing his personal political profile, would have taken the concessions, declared victory, and moved on.

But this governor naturally prefers conflict. He disparages and insults those who don’t agree with his bleak vision of making Wisconsin more like Mississippi.

I am convinced that his inability to understand the art of negotiation is why he has such a jaundiced view of collective bargaining. This affects not just his relationship with state employees, but his ability to deal with other elected officials, especially members of the state legislature.

The art of negotiation naturally involves give and take. It involves listening. Done well, it resolves a lot of issues that help an organization operate more smoothly and effectively. Instead of top-down centralized decision-making, collective bargaining engages management and those on the front lines in a serious discussion about how to get the job done. By giving workers a voice and the right to use it without fearing political repercussions, an organization encourages a free flow of information and creates checks and balances.

This governor is not interested in any checks and balances. He is interested in concentrating power in his office and in filling state government with cronies and yes men who are afraid to speak out.

His childish notion that he won’t negotiate because he has created a fiscal crisis reveals a willful ignorance of what has happened in many industries across the country. Facing tough times, these employers engage their workers in negotiations where contracts are restructured to meet changing conditions. Sometimes, this means cuts in wages or benefits, something public employees have signaled they understand and can accept.

The governor’s continuing insistence that his punitive, rights-stripping legislation is about money shows he either doesn’t understand what public employees have already offered, or he chooses not to for his own political purposes.

Unfortunately, his choice of conflict over compromise is putting Wisconsin ever deeper into a state of paralysis. It is time for the governor to start listening to the people of Wisconsin. It is time to get our state moving forward again.

Marty Beil is executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24. The union represents more than 23,000 front-line state workers.

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