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Wisconsin wakes from silence-induced coma

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker discusses his proposal to significantly strip the collective bargaining powers of state and local public employee unions during a Friday press conference in the Governor’s conference room at the state Capitol. (AP Photo)

I was boarding a plane late last week when my Twitter timeline erupted with reaction to news that Gov. Scott Walker was proposing drastic changes to the ways unions negotiate on behalf of public workers in Wisconsin.

Since I was gone for a few days, I haven’t had much of a chance to talk to people about the proposed legislation, which could pass through the Legislature as soon as Thursday. But I did get a sense for what people were feeling – mostly, it seemed, shock and anger.

That runs counter to Walker’s recent remark that anyone who didn’t see his proposal coming must have been in a “coma.”

I didn’t see it coming. But, then again, I haven’t lived in Wisconsin for very long. Mark Klipstein, on the other hand, is a project manager for the state Department of Transportation. An engineer for 23 years, Klipstein told me he also felt blindsided by the proposal.

“I’m not in a coma. I’m speaking pretty well,” Klipstein said. “But I didn’t see this coming.”

Klipstein, who also is president of the State Engineering Association, said none of his group’s members – least of whom, the governor’s supporters – expected Walker to eliminate unions’ abilities to collectively bargain benefits for state workers.

“A lot of our members probably voted for him,” Klipstein said. “We see a lot of waste and fraud in our government, and he has a deficit to resolve.

“That doesn’t mean you end collective bargaining altogether. It means, let’s get together and meet. We can find ways to save money.”

If those of us who didn’t anticipate Walker’s proposal were, indeed, in a coma, then perhaps it was one induced by Walker’s choice to keep specifics mum until the last minute.

After all, while people were angry about Walker’s decision to turn away federal money for high-speed rail, at least no one could claim it was a surprise. Walker made it a key issue during his campaign.

However, as far as I can tell, Walker never said anything during the campaign alluding to changes like the ones he’s proposing now. Sure, he made constant references to bringing the public sector in line with the private sector. But he waited to deliver the specifics until a few days before he’s asking the Legislature to approve them.

Perhaps Walker doesn’t understand everyone else’s surprise because he’s known for several weeks or months what he planned to introduce in his budget repair bill.

If that’s the case, though, he should have told the rest of us – preferably sometime before he got elected.


  1. Some people are acting as if our Governor is asking to marry our daughters and date our wives. Come on let’s get with what is going on here. Our State is in serious trouble and if we stop and talk about it for a few more months we can just call ourselves, CA, IL or MI. When all the crying stops we can look in the mirror and congratulate ourselves for “talking about it”!
    Real men and women make hard decisions during hard times. These are very hard times indeed!

  2. I agree with Plumbguy 100%. You said it yourself that in Walkers campaign he told us he wants to get the public sector in line with the private sector, what did you think that was going to mean, pass a law that private business will have to pay for 95% to 100% of their employee’s health insurance or that the company will need to fund the retirement fund 100%. This is crazy talk.
    There were teachers on the news last night indicating that this is going to wreck the school system; if how much you get paid determines how well you teach then that is a problem. A school is not an assembly line where you need to make your rate and then cost the rest of the day. I thought unions were a “brotherhood” that they whatch out for one another, if all of them dont start contributing together then a portion of them are going to be without a job.
    People in the private sector have been struggling and giving consesions for the last two years and the idea of raising our taxes so public sector people can continue to live the lifestyle they are acustom to is sad.
    We are all citizens of this great state and we are heading in the right direction.

  3. As a former state employee, I agree with Walker’s changes. I do not have the ability to negotiate benefits even in the private sector. I know several unemployed and underemployed people who would love to get a state job that offers health insurance even if they have to pay a samll premium for it. It would be more than unemployment offers, for those who still get unemployment.

  4. I was at the rally today and the people there are talking thru their bottom. The news has also made this story bigger especially in libralville, madison. My family has 2 public employees and everyone in the family are behind correcting the MASSIVE fiscal problem WI has. Like Obama said – “elections have consequenses” and Walker DID say he was going to fix the state fiscal problem; so maybe you were not in a coma but you also were not thinking clearly with the facts in front of you. If you listened for the past eight years to milwaukee counties news, the secret would have been obvious. If Mr. Klipstein was thinking rationaly, he would not have stated (per writer above) that “none of his group’s members” expected governers’ actions. By definition, words like never, none, always are not usaully used by good practing engineers as never is a long time and none means he got feedback from the 1100 State Engineering Association (union) members that Mr. Klipstein is president of. Libral politicans say the public union members are being put into slavcery by this repair bill that is for the REST of this fiscal year. Wait, the public union guys can quit and go to the private sector to get a better deal AND slaves did not make $100,000/yr salary + benfits a years did they???? If the answer is yes, where do I sign up?

  5. Should His Royal Phoniness also save the million bucks a year we spend on his Executive Mansion with his half-dozen fulltime servants including a flower arranger, chauffeur and personal chef (and what happened to all that “brown bag” stuff he kept referring to when he was running for governor, again?)

  6. Congratulations to the Governor and Legislature for finally capping the unions. Why do State and Local workers need unions? To squeeze the taxpayer? I know they are taxpayers also. Some of these people are making over $100,000/yr. The last time I did that was…NEVER!
    I’m sick and tired of the teachers dribble. But I have a Master’s Degree. So what? If you want the BIG BUCKS, go to corporate America.
    Let’s get teh public workers in tune with the private workers. I pay 100% of my health insurance plus the deductible of $2500. What do they pay? I feed my own 401k–100% of it! Yet they get free ride.
    There are many who do not have either.
    These State and Local public workers should be glad they have a job.

  7. This state only has a budget shortfall because of tax breaks to the top 1%. That is not the average worker in WI. IT is a 140 page bill, very few know what is in this bill. I’ve heard there are cuts to medicare, medicaid. Medicaid currently pays the disabled and elderly peanuts, yet we are being brainwashed into thinking everyone is ‘on the state dole’. People need to look long and hard at his relationship to the billionaire Koch Brothers who did infuse (via several methods) upwards of 4 million into his campaign! Money doesn’t buy government? The Koch brothers own businesses in WI (not many, but?) My opinion is Scott Walker is beholden to the money that put him in office. He does not care about the average citizen. This is a power grab for/by the Republican Party to take over completely. The unions gave up a great deal, they conceded to pay cuts and paying for benefits. This has nothing to do with that issue.
    If Walker succeeds, Wi, and every state, will be corporate owned…or rather oligopolies.
    Does anyone think it is coincidence that this is happening throughout the midwest right now, and other states as well? All part of the master plan. Wake up Wisconsin, wake up America.

  8. I paid close attention during the campaign, and don’t recall hearing anything bout busting the unions. Walker did hint at getting the state workers more in line with the private sector, but that sounded at the time as if the the state employees were finally going to get a better deal: stop having their pay and hours cut every time the state needs to take money back from someone, finally get some respect and consideration. Things like that. I don’t recall Walker EVER mentioning busting unions and destroying collective bargaining. I don’t remember that he EVER said he was planning to give away our entire budget surplus to his rich cronies. I don’t recall that he even mentioned creating a budget shortfall on behalf of the rich, then expecting the working class to pay for it.

    But I do agree that people were at least asleep during the last campaign. All you had to do was check Walker’s record as Milwaukee Executive, and you’d have know he was not competent to hold public office.

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