Wisconsin sets a poor example of how to lead

Staff Writer
Woodford Times

There are no winners in Wisconsin’s recall election a few weeks ago.

Not Gov. Scott Walker, though he’s taking a victory lap. No office-holder wants to have to fight a recall initiative. Surviving your first term of office is the most minimal measure of political success.

One true measure of a leader is one who earns the respect and cooperation of those who disagree with him on the issues.

Walker failed that test early on, interpreting a mandate for responsible spending as a call to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights and threaten the financial security of thousands of middle class teachers, firefighters, nurses and police.

The recall effort, and the political circus that preceded it as Walker pushed his “reforms” through the state legislature, are symptoms of an executive’s inability to manage change.

The leaders of the recall effort certainly aren’t winners, either. Caught up in the emotion of the moment, they overplayed their hand. Americans

believe in fixed terms of office.

Recalls over policy matters, as opposed to conduct in office, are exceedingly rare and rarely successful. The time to repudiate Walker’s leadership was when he sought re-election.

Everybody lost because the civic fabric was torn: taxpayers vs. teachers and cops, public employers vs. public employees.

It’s sad to see a state filled with nice people turn into a battleground of competing interests.

Every state has faced budget crises since the recession cut deeply into revenues. Most governors and legislatures didn’t use a budget shortfall as an excuse to break their public employee unions. They rolled up their sleeves, made difficult choices, worked together and shared the sacrifice.

Massachusetts, for one, stands in sharp contrast to Wisconsin. Political leaders have engaged public employee unions in tough contract negotiations and intense legislative battles. But they kept talking, and they didn’t threaten each other’s legitimacy.

Political leaders didn’t try to break the unions or take away their collective bargaining rights.

Union members didn’t threaten to recall elected officials.

Neither side got all they wanted, but substantive reforms were enacted without widespread rancor. Salaries and benefits were reduced for some unions, notably in public transportation. The retirement age was raised. Pension eligibility rules were tightened, eliminating abuses that had made headlines. The state’s long-term pension liability was reduced.

After a legislative battle that was intense but not bitter, the state legislature gave municipalities new tools for reducing the cost of employee health care.

In the first year under the reforms, cities, towns and school districts have saved more than $100 million through the reforms, the Mass. Taxpayers Foundation reports.

Those savings have been split, MTF reports, with nearly half of it going to public employees and the rest benefiting taxpayers. Everyone won.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, whose calm, conciliatory leadership couldn’t be more different from Walker’s governing style, likes to say that “in times of crisis, we should turn to each other, not on each other.”

Public employees aren’t the enemies of taxpayers. We’re part of the same family, the same community. When leaders act like that, there are no winners or losers.

    — GateHouse News Service