Playing right into Walker's hands

Something is happening that I was afraid would happen in the statewide controversy over the budget repair bill (now in legal limbo), and it might yet undermine the effort to maintain the current level of collective bargaining privileges for public employees.

It's the deliberate harassment of Wisconsin businesses, which is the most counterproductive strategy I can think of. Forget vandalizing the property of lawmakers, which also is hurting the cause (apparently, some folks missed President Obama's recent plea for civility). In the privacy of that voting booth during potential recall elections and the forthcoming Supreme Court race that could have a huge impact on the legal outcome, or perhaps even in the gathering of recall signatures, Wisconsinites might very well remember who was harassing the people who sign their paychecks.

Whether it's M&I Bank or the local print shop, these are the people who have taken risks to start a business, meet a payroll, and provide communities with jobs and tax base – without which there would be no way to compensate public employees. Some of these companies have thousands of employees (and potential voters), so tell me again why it's a smart tactic to target them?

You say there are Walker supporters in their management? In that case, you might as well picket every business in the state. Why not alienate the daylights out of everyone?

Business owners will respect the cause of public employees a lot more if they are allowed to remain neutral, especially since they have employees and customers on both sides of this issue. And the calls for business boycotts have been met with counter calls for "buycotts" from folks who agree with the Governor – people who tend to have a lot more disposable income to spend – so what exactly is being gained here?

Plenty, if you happen to side with Gov. Walker. It reminds me a little bit of the controversial tactic of flag burning. Legal? Yes, if you happen to own the flag that's being torched, but it's also an obnoxious form of protest that others can, and most often do, hold against the cause of Old Glory's tormentors.

Instead of harassing businesses, why not concentrate on the reasons why public employees should not lose collective bargaining power? Why not remind people of the value these workers provide to all of us? I'll provide one example: On display right now is Wisconsin's version of March Madness, the state athletic tournaments that convene each year in Madison. Without the public employee teachers/coaches who work with these kids, this revered spring tradition wouldn't be possible.

I'll admit to a special bias here. My niece, Janelle Vanden Plas, plays for the state-tournament-bound Luxemburg-Casco (basketball) Spartans. I've been making special trips to Luxemburg, located about 15 miles east of Green Bay, and lately to Appleton, Neenah, and Oshkosh to watch Janelle and her teammates play. I'm really looking forward to seeing Janelle, a senior who has overcome a great deal of adversity, play at the Kohl Center this weekend. (Since this is a true team, the high-achievers also include Kelsey Joniaux, Shelly Mleziva, Haley Kinnard, Allison Warnke, and Mikki Schmelzer. It's been a treat to watch them hoop it up, and I would note that all of the above are on either the second quarter "A" or "B" honor roll for their respective graduating class. That's pretty good stuff!)

In particular, Janelle's story is one worth telling. Before her freshman year, she had a chance to play varsity ball before tearing up her right knee (anterior cruciate ligament) in a summer league game. In her sophomore season, she played in one game before injuring the other knee (ACL, medial collateral ligament, and meniscus) in practice the next week. That's two seasons lost to injury, lots of rehab, and the scars to prove it. If not for supportive parents (my brother Jim and his wife, Debbie) and family, encouraging teammates and coaches, and her own sheer will, Janelle might have said "to heck with it."

Instead, she endured two rehabs and the angst of watching her team play from the bench, but she has (thankfully) remained healthy in her junior and senior years, she has still managed to score 1,000 points in her high school career, and she has led her team to the state tournament. Despite a scholarship offer from Winona State University, she may not play collegiately because of lingering soreness in both knees, so this might be, as she says, her last hurrah. I'm so happy for her because nobody deserves a trip to state more than this kid.

Luxemburg-Casco plays so well as a team that I've taken time to compliment her coaches – Brett Killion, Randy Warnke, Della Otradovec, and Adam Miller – after various games. An all-state candidate, Janelle is a dominant post player, and when the defense packs down in the lane to defend her, she's a nifty passer – either to a teammate cutting down the lane or spotting up for a three pointer. She didn't learn to play the game so well and so unselfishly without outstanding coaches that preach sharing the basketball.

As corny as it sounds, it's exactly the kind of teamwork Wisconsin business owners need and appreciate in their workforces, and it's ingrained at an early age by unionized public employees (coaches and teachers). I've also been impressed with all of the teams that have competed against Luxemburg-Casco, from Madison Edgewood to the fine Beaver Dam team that gave the Spartans a scare Saturday night.

Yet instead of reinforcing these values in the public consciousness, we get pickets at places of employment. That's not good, smart, or effective.

Meanwhile, Gov. Walker is still on message, claiming that in most school districts and municipalities, what is lost in his controversial 2011-13 state budget proposal can be made up by asking public employees to pick up more of their pension and health care costs. It's time for public employees to stop waging war against businesses (the hand that feeds them) and focus totally on countering the Governor's message in a constructive way.

Reminding Wisconsinites of the value they get for their tax dollars is the best way.

Public employees have the "public" on their side on the collective bargaining point of this historic skirmish. Gov. Walker overplayed his hand on this one, going for the whole enchilada rather than focusing on collective bargaining abuses, which have little to do with salary and benefits and can be prevented if those serving on municipal bodies and school boards develop a spine when representing the taxpayers.

But Walker's critics will throw him a lifeline if they continue to harass the state's private-sector businesses. Public employee unions will need the people employed in these businesses to unseat incumbent Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, win these recall elections, and reverse the curtailment of collective bargaining.

I've been watching my tax dollars at work – a good portion of our state income taxes go to local schools – by taking in the Luxemburg-Casco Spartans, and I am well pleased. This and other examples of what public employees do for us, day in and day out, is where the focus should be.

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