The long view

"The long view" Continued...

Issue: "Clutching two, dropping four," April 23, 2011

The results of the race remain too close to call, with Kloppenburg holding a razor thin advantage over Prosser for the ten-year term. She claimed victory, but her unofficial 204 vote advantage out of almost 1.5 million votes cast will likely trigger a recount, something that Wisconsin hasn't experienced since 1989. Even if Prosser loses, his term doesn't expire until August, by which time he may already have had a chance to weigh in on the collective bargaining legislation that is making its way through the lower courts now. The high turnout and closeness of the vote demonstrated that Democrats are fired up, but Republicans are too, removing credibility from Democrats' description of the vote as a clear rebuke to Walker.

The measure in Walker's legislation that allows individual public sector workers to choose whether to contribute to the union rather than the union automatically receiving dues means that unions will lose a lot of money, and thus political clout. Workers historically like to keep their money. Unions argue that the measure means their members can freeload-be represented without paying dues.

Private sector unions have been losing members and money over the last decade, and they aren't weeping over the public sector's political woes: Forty-four percent of private sector union households in Wisconsin said public sector unions had too much influence in politics, according to a March 3 Rasmussen poll. Only 9 percent of those union households said the unions had too little influence.

Public sector employees make up the majority of union members now. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest union for public employees, gives the most to political candidates of any organization in the country, $87.5 million for the midterms last year. Though Democrats have condemned the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision for opening corporate coffers to Republicans, the decision allowed AFSCME to use its mandated union dues for direct campaign spending, which wasn't allowed before. The heavy spending in the midterms was meant to fend off attacks on "public sector workers as the problem," AFSCME President Gerald McEntee told The Wall Street Journal back in the fall.

"Long term, if you can take the control out of the hands of the union bosses and put the power in the hands of the union members, that's a huge benefit for conservatives," said Heritage's Sherk. On this, unions agree: "Clearly there is a significant interest in undermining the political influence of public employee unions throughout the country," said John Sullivan, associate general counsel of the SEIU, at a recent forum. But Sherk said that weakening public unions' political power goes hand-in-hand with conservatives' efforts to limit the size and scope of government. "The heart and soul of the union movement is basically government bureaucrats lobbying for more government," he said. "It's not the workers on the assembly line anymore."

Litjens says she ran for office in order to limit union lobbying through right-to-work legislation. And in the near term, she acknowledges that she and her fellow Republicans might pay the political consequences and never see another term in office. "People did not vote Republican," she said about the 2010 election. "They voted to fix it."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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