Wisconsin Republicans more focused on Walker's recall election than the presidential primary

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has officially scheduled the recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker for June 5. The Democratic primary will be May 8.

The same NBC/Marist poll that showed Mitt Romney with a seven-point lead in the GOP presidential primary also revealed that Wisconsin Republicans are more attuned to the recall effort against Governor Walker than to the GOP presidential race. By a margin of 51 percent to 37 percent, Republicans in the state said they’re more interested in Walker’s fate than, say, Romney’s.

That is as it should be. What happens nearer to home is felt more deeply and is also more actionable than what happens far away.

When Scott Walker introduced his controversial curbs to the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, he framed them as a part of his broader effort to balance the budget and, indeed, that was what they were. By asking public employees to make slightly higher contributions to their own health and pension plans and by limiting the benefits union leaders could extort out of government, he opened up a significant new source of savings and gave local officials greater flexibility to live within their own means. Walker campaigned on a promise to balance the budget without raising taxes — and the budget he signed in 2011 was, indeed, a balanced budget.

The way in which he kept his promise has ramifications beyond the budget, though. By choosing to address union abuses, Walker restored some measure of public employee and taxpayer freedom. Wisconsin public school teachers no longer are forced to pay union dues. Taxpayers are no longer forced to subsidize the demands of public employee union leaders.

Walker’s most significant contribution to the conservative movement might very well be the way he reopened the question: Should public employee unions have collective bargaining privileges at all? He made it possible to argue the answer is “no.” After all, collective bargaining between the government and, er, the government is a very different proposition than collective bargaining between management and laborers, as Union Watch has so eloquently explained:

Whether or not you agree with unions in the private sector, the justification for unionizing government workers rests on very different, and far more debatable assumptions. The purpose of government is to provide services to citizens as efficiently and equitably as possible. The purpose of unions is to extract as much money and benefits to their members as possible, as well as to acquire more members. These two purposes are intrinsically in opposition. In the private sector, unions oppose management, and union demands are mitigated by the fact that private companies must compete for customers and must therefore operate efficiently. In the public sector, unions are essentially opposing taxpayers, and the efficiency and the expense of government is not checked by market forces because the government is a monopoly with the power to force citizens to pay taxes.

Wisconsin taxpayers not only stand to benefit by the solidification of Walker’s reforms, but they also have the opportunity to send a statement to the rest of the country that sound public policy trumps dirty politics. Do Wisconsin voters value freedom and fiscal responsibility more than they value government benefits and collective bargaining privileges for government employees? That’s what we’ll find out June 5.

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