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So You Say You Want a Revolution: Where Is the Scott Walker of Illinois?

The emergence of a governor like Scott Walker isn’t just a matter of finding the right individual—it’s a combination of national political trends, regional political cultures, legislative arcana, and pure luck. We’d all love to see the plan.

Scott Walker recall

 

John Kass asks: Where is the Scott Walker of Illinois?

When I hunt for someone, I take a salient piece of advice. First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself?

Backed by the tea party and conservatives, Walker imposed pension reform, demanding that public workers contribute more to their taxpayer-funded pensions. This was anathema to the Democrats and the public-sector unions who fund them. So the Democrats and the unions and President Barack Obama pushed back. And they lost on Tuesday.

To quote the great Chicagoan Bill Thompson (the Old-Timer, not the mayor), that ain’t the way I heared it. The way I heared it, one feller says:

Ken Weaver, a Department of Transportation worker active with the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said employees were willing to make concessions on compensation, but were upset over the prospect of losing most of their bargaining rights.

Willy Haus, a lawyer who negotiates contracts for the State Engineers Association and the Association of State Prosecutors, said Walker could have more easily hit the number he wanted in concessions - about $300 million over two years - if he negotiated with the unions.

“State workers willing to bend on concessions, not bargaining rights,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, February 14, 2011

And the other feller, he says:

The use of furloughs was the approach taken by then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a fairly typical cost-savings tactic. After the election, Walker said he wanted to avoid furloughs in favor of the concessions on health and pension costs, and wanted to limit bargaining to wages.

Before the election Walker talked about seeking concessions in the context of face-to-face negotiations – as in the Oshkosh Northwestern interview. He is moving to impose health and pension cost-sharing through legislation, without having taken his proposal to the unions.

Some explanation is in order. In 2010, Jim Doyle had tentatively negotiated furlough days equivalent to 3.3-percent salary cuts and “small increases” in health care premiums, then 5.6 percent of salary—but it’s worth noting that under Doyle, that percentage more than doubled, and went along with furlough days and lower salary increases over time than his four predecessors. Furloughs are unpopular, but more appealing than salary cuts because they’re temporary and have to be renegotiated frequently. Doyle was an incrementalist; Walker wanted to double health care premiums and add a 5.8 percent pay-in to pensions.

That same year, governor-elect Walker politely requested that Doyle break off the negotiations for his incremental cuts. Three months later, Walker announced his intention to remove collective bargaining for pensions and health insurance rates, limiting bargaining only to salary, something that he hadn’t campaigned on, as Politifact noted above. Keep in mind that pensions are essentially deferred compensation, and there’s evidence that public employees in Wisconsin, at least those with college degrees, do in fact defer substantial amounts of compensation as pensioned employees.

Walker’s end-run was made possible by the Wisconsin GOP taking both the Senate and the House—the latter flipped 50-45 Democrat to 57-38 Republican, a massive shift. Walker had an easy road to stripping bargaining for insurance and pensions, at least between the legislature and the courts. This precipitated the exodus of Democratic senators to Illinois and kicked off the ongoing protests in Madison:

The leader of the state’s largest public employee union said workers were prepared to discuss financial concessions but not to give up bargaining rights. Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, said protests would continue until Walker agrees to negotiate.

But neither Walker nor the Republicans who took control of both the state Senate and Assembly in November appear ready to make concessions. Walker has called on Senate Democrats to “come home” and rebuffed a request to sit down with them to seek a compromise.

Without the massive victory by Republicans in both houses of the State Assembly, Walker’s plan to well exceed Doyle’s negotiated changes by removing the negotiations entirely never would have been a realistic possibility.

So there’s your first answer: Illinois’s Scott Walker has to cool his heels, assuming they’ve ever been hot in the first place, until Republicans take both houses of the General Assembly. This has happened once since 1973, when the very not-Scott-Walkerian Jim Edgar was the incumbent Republican governor. That year the Republican Revolution actually caught Michael Madigan off-guard. Never again!

What’s different from 1994 is that Madigan, rarely one to overlook a history lesson, learned in defeat that he must hold ground in key races just in case there is a catastrophic national Democratic wipeout. Madigan also has an advantage this time because he lost power under a 1990s legislative map in which district boundaries were drawn to help Republicans. Today’s map is drawn by Democrats to help Democrats.

Madigan started recruiting candidates two days after the election, and shortly thereafter Order Was Restored.

You could wait for the stars to align to produce a Scott Walker—not just as an individual, but as a governor—or slowly push them into alignment. There’s even a handy if somewhat discouraging guide for that (PDF). But getting to that point would likely be made easier if power was shifted in the GA. Not partisan power necessarily, but the power held by GA leadership as a result of procedural rules. There’s your second answer.

* Rich Miller has written about this before: “There is a defect in the Illinois Constitution that is so fundamentally fatal that it practically begs voters to approve a state constitutional convention this November… The problem is that the Illinois Constitution has allowed three people to accumulate infinitely more power than the framers ever dreamt possible.”

* And Ramsin Canon: “Will Michael J. Madigan end up being the Prime Minister of Illinois?”

* And more recently Adam Doster, whose piece wraps back around to GOP control of the legislature in 1992: “After drawing new (and favorable) legislative districts in the 1990 redistricting process, Republicans won a majority in the Senate in the 1992 elections. To marginalize Madigan, who still held a majority in the House, former GOP Senate President Pate Philip instituted a series of rule changes centralizing power in his office, effectively stripping rank-and-file members of various basic rights and giving Philip authority to shelve bills Democrats liked in the lower chamber. When the GOP and Rep. Lee Daniels took over the House two years later, they adopted the Senate rules almost verbatim.”

These rules were one reason Mike Bost was so famously het up the other day. If you can get Miller, Bost, Canon, and Doster all behind something, that’s pretty darn bipartisan.

But it’s also both incrementalist and arcane. A third option is “rent a UHaul.” It’s cheaper:

While [Daniel J.] Elazar’s (1984, chap. 5) characterization of the American states’ political cultures has been criticized on a variety of grounds… it remains one of the most used and cited characterizations of state politics in the political science literature, largely because of its face validity for observers of many states’ politics. Nowhere is this face validity stronger than in Illinois, the state where Elazar began his study of political culture…. [Ed. note: he got his M.A. and Ph.D at the U. of C.] Elazar characterized Illinois as an individualistic political culture, where, among other things, politics is primarily about who gets what and who wins elections so that they can reward their supporters once in office. Those interested in ideological and technical debate about policy and the value of fighting (and perhaps losing) the good fight would best be advised to head north to pursue their political career in the moralistic political culture of Wisconsin.

Ubi est mea: it’s not just good for Chicago.


* Actually entitled “The Illinois General Assembly, 1992-2003: Leadership Control, Continuity, and Partisanship,” by Christopher Z. Mooney of UIS and Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures, writing for the Joint Project on Term Limits in 2004. It’s really interesting.

 

Photograph: Chicago Tribune

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