I knew when I became the editor of your favorite weekly newspaper that I was heading into a number of controversial issues in Platteville.
Issue number one, chronologically speaking, is Tuesday’s recall election.
This column is not the official endorsement of The Platteville Journal; it is an explanation of whom I’m voting for Tuesday, and why. Judging from recent letters, this may or may not be a minority view in this newspaper’s corner of the world.
The ultimate question any recall election poses is whether the elected official’s conduct, either in office or out of office, warrants that elected official’s removal from office before the next regularly scheduled election. A recall is warranted for neither Gov. Scott Walker for what he’s done since January 2011, nor for Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) for votes he’s recently taken.
You do not have to agree with everything, or even anything, Walker has done to agree that Walker does not deserve to be recalled. A majority of voters voted for Walker in November 2010, either because they thought he would be a better governor than Democrat Tom Barrett, or as a vote against Walker’s predecessor, Gov. James Doyle. Voters felt similarly about Republicans in legislative races, which is why Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) represents the 49th Assembly District and Rep. Phil Garthwaite (D–Dickeyville) does not, and why Rep. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green) won the open 51st Assembly District race to replace the late Rep. Steve Hilgenberg (D–Dodgeville).
Politicians and their supporters exaggerate their own accomplishments and the negatives of their opponents. Let’s just say that the writers of several anti-Walker letters in this newspaper (including those on this page this week) have a different point of view about Walker’s work from mine. Claims that Walker, in just 17 months, has singlehandedly destroyed our schools, family farms, environment, public health, women’s rights, workers’ rights, etc., lack evidence beyond personal opinion.
I know that the public employee collective bargaining changes that required more government employee contributions toward health care and retirement benefits took money out of families’ pockets. I know that less money in public employees’ pockets means less money spent with local businesses. It is regrettable that so many educators have decided to retire rather than pay more for their benefits, but that was ultimately their decision to make.
There may have been less need for those changes had not the previous governor and his allies in the Legislature generated multiple billion-dollar deficits in the 2009–10 Legislature. It is also true that government employees, who comprise 13 percent of workers statewide (though a higher percentage in the Platteville area), still get better benefits that cost employees less, better job security and more workplace rights than the 85 percent of workers who do not work for government, but whose taxes pay for government. Those are facts, not pejorative statements about the value or quality of the work of public employees.
To use a term that appeared in a different context in The Journal last week, it is intellectually dishonest to suggest the way to solve the state’s financial problems is to raise someone else’s taxes. There’s a word for the “1 percent” who are supposedly manipulating the puppet strings attached to the Walker administration. The word is “employers,” people like John Menard, founder of Menards Inc., and the Koch brothers, who employ 4,000 Wisconsinites. One reason for those billion-dollar deficits is that the state has paid insufficient attention to the state’s business climate for decades, which is one reason why per capita personal income growth in Wisconsin has trailed the national average since the late 1970s. A poor business climate hurts the so-called “1 percent,” but it hurts small businesses — owned by people who do not get nights, weekends or holidays off, pay the entire cost of their health insurance, and whose income is far from assured — to a much greater extent.
The issue for any election involving an incumbent is also whether the challenger would do a better job in office than the incumbent. Barrett has had a largely accomplishment-free eight years as mayor of Milwaukee. Milwaukee is the home of the state’s worst social pathologies — one of the worst school systems in the nation, high levels of crime, and high levels of unemployment generally and minority unemployment specifically. Other than choose the right police chief, Barrett has accomplished nothing in improving any of those negative social trends, including getting control of (or even trying to get control of) Milwaukee Public Schools from its inept school board and its teacher union that represents every bad thing about public employee unions.
A vote for Barrett accomplishes nothing legislatively anyway before the Nov. 6 elections. (Although a Barrett win will make money for whoever has registered the domain name recalltombarrett.com. That domain name was registered April 12.) The majority party in the Assembly will not change before Nov. 6, and with a 21-seat Republican majority, a change in party control after Nov. 6 is unlikely, though not impossible. All a Barrett win will do is grease the skids for the recall of Barrett beginning one year after he takes office. Perpetual recalls are not what the Founding Fathers of this country or those who created the recall process in this state had in mind.
People do not vote for change; they vote for improvement. (You may see that phrase in this space five months from now.) Walker is not even halfway through his term in office. Voters get the chance to decide if they like his party’s work Nov. 6, when the Assembly and half the Senate is up for reelection. As for now, a majority of voters in November 2010 decided Barrett should not be governor of Wisconsin, and Walker should be. They were right then, and a vote for Walker is the right, as in correct, thing to do June 5.