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Rights-Stripping Maneuver By Wisconsin Republicans Will Be Long Remembered Over Next Election Cycles

The oddest thing about the “Ash Wednesday Ambush” last night in Madison is that this could have been done really at any time. The idea behind sticking the stripping of public employee rights in the budget repair bill was to give political cover. Once that was blown, and everybody knew what was in the bill, this was always a safety valve. There would still have been legal questions, but they had this opportunity pretty much whenever. They could have tried it the first day the Fab 14 Senate Democrats left. Heck, I wrote on February 21 about this possibility of stripping the collective bargaining piece. Here’s what I said about it at the time:

I don’t think the GOP wants a standalone bill taking away people’s collective bargaining rights. It makes their action far too obvious. Nothing would start the recall petitions faster.

I also mentioned that Scott Walker was constantly talking about collective bargaining being a fiscal issue, and that Scott Fitzgerald promised that he wouldn’t take up the bill without Democrats present, but I guess things change.

Well, they couldn’t take the pressure, I guess. They must have figured the action was already too obvious, and that the recall petitions would succeed anyway. So they might a well get something out of their short-lived majority.

And yes, they will get something. The unions may be able to get an injunction, and who knows, may even be able to stop this in court. But it would be costly. And if it doesn’t work, they have to contend with a host of issues, including annual re-certification to a membership that knows it’s legally barred from advocating on their behalf. Before long, people will wonder what the point of the union is. In Indiana, union dues dropped 90% after Mitch Daniels stripped collective bargaining rights by executive order (which wasn’t possible in Wisconsin).

What Walker and the Republicans cannot extinguish is the new spirit of the labor-progressive movement in the state. That will be on display today, in rallies across the state which promise to be large. And it will be on display in the state Supreme Court race April 5, and the recalls that will ensue, and all future elections in Wisconsin and perhaps the nation. I remember one sign in Madison vividly: “Remember the party who tried to do this.”

With a trifecta – both houses and the Governorship – Scott Walker and his allies had to resort to a dead-of-night maneuver, despite repeated places where they could have declared victory. Here’s Greg Sargent:

What’s amazing about this latest turn of events is that Walker could have reached a deal with unions and very plausibly declared victory. He could have rightly argued that his tough stance on bargaining rights forced major fiscal concessions. Instead, he dug in, and now Republicans blindly following him have pulled a stunt that will only exacerbate grassroots anger in Wisconsin and leave national unions and liberal groups no alternative but to pour everything they have into recall drives. National Republicans can’t be happy about this overreach: It has galvanized the labor movement, allowed it to restate its case to the public, given Obama an easy way to mend fences with unions, and complicated GOP outreach to blue collar whites in key swing states and districts heading into 2012.

This is exactly the sort of conduct that justifies recalls. This will only escalate from here on out.

Nate Silver expands on the idea about mobilizing the Democratic base. I don’t know if it will go beyond Wisconsin, but I do know that there, the grassroots and the Democratic Party are completely united, and the Fab 14 lionized. This power grab came without any political cover whatsoever from the opposition. And Wisconsinites will remember.

…EJ Dionne gets this right: National Democrats would be wise to follow the Wisconsin model.

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David Dayen

David Dayen