Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Why Walker Resists Right to Work Law

He supported it as a legislator, but it could create a huge “distraction” from his run for president.

By - Jan 12th, 2015 10:35 am

“Distraction” is the term Gov. Scott Walker repeatedly uses to try and convince Republican legislators to not seriously consider any right-to-work bill. The implication is that any attention given that issue would interfere with lawmakers debating and approving the 2015-17 state budget, which Walker will hand them on Feb. 3.

But there’s another explanation. Controversy over any right-to-work bill wouldn’t end in Wisconsin’s Capitol, but could undercut his all-but-announced candidacy for President.

Scott Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Photo from Wisconsin Blue Book.

Consider this scenario: It’s Jan. 11, 2016, in Urbandale, a Republican-rich suburb of Des Moines.  Walker is scheduled to address Polk County Young Republicans one week before Iowa’s pick-a-candidate presidential caucuses. Walker is one of six Republican presidential candidates striving to get the nation’s attention in caucuses held in homes, schools, churches and neighborhood centers in an Iowa winter.

But, when Wisconsin’s governor arrives at the Urbandale event to ask for Young Republicans support, 35 union activists are chanting and protesting, attracting the attention of state and national reporters. Why the protests? Forced to act by GOP lawmakers back home, Walker signed a right-to-work bill into law a few months earlier.

Right-to-work laws generally prohibit employers and unions from requiring union membership, and dues payments, as a condition of employment. Even though such a law already exists in Iowa, should Walker sign one in Wisconsin, we would likely win the wrath of national union leaders – who Walker beat with his 2011 Act 10 law that all but did away with public employee collective bargaining, and who bitterly oppose right to work laws. They would want revenge by disrupting his “why I should be President” message however they can.

Sure, Walker can boast to Iowa Republicans that he stood up to union “bosses” who don’t want him to be President. That may be an applause line in Urbandale, Iowa. But what about one week later, when the Walker-for-president campaign pulls up to a Republican rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, and finds other protesting union leaders? New Hampshire is scheduled to hold its presidential primary on Jan. 26, 2016.

New Hampshire does not have a right-to-work law. And the union activists outside the Nashua rally say the governor who signed into law Wisconsin’s right-to-work statute isn’t welcome there. Walker could get this question: “Governor, do you think New Hampshire needs a right-to-work law like the one you signed into law for Wisconsin?”

Then fast-forward from New Hampshire’s primary to Colorado and Minnesota, two more states without no right-to-work laws who may hold presidential caucuses Feb. 2. And four days later, on Feb. 6, Nevada could hold presidential caucuses. Nevada has a right-to-work law.

Then, between Feb. 13 and Feb. 23, presidential primary elections are tentatively scheduled in three more states with right-to-work laws: South Carolina, North Carolina and Michigan. More anti-Walker union protests. More questions about an issue that could take the Walker’s campaign off message. More questions that create a “distraction.”

TV news clips of old (2011) and new (2016) protests could have voters asking: Is Scott Walker too polarizing, too divisive to be President? Would he simply be the next Divider in Chief?

What’s the best way for Walker to keep the right-to-work issue from ambushing his presidential campaign? Convincing the top two Republicans back home – Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald – to not even let a right-to-work bill be introduced.

That message may be getting through. Last week, for example, Fitzgerald told reporters there is no consensus among Senate Republicans on whether to begin considering such a “complex” issue. A few weeks ago, Fitzgerald said he hoped the Senate could quickly consider a right-to-work bill.

It’s clear that Walker “doesn’t want the ruckus” and “all the things that come with” the right-to-work controversy, Fitzgerald said last week. It’s also clear that Wisconsin Legislature won’t debate the right-to-work change “up against the pressure of an election,” Fitzgerald added. What Fitzgerald didn’t specify was that he was referring to a presidential election.

For his part, Vos has pledged that the Assembly will not first consider any right-to-work bill. “The Speaker supports right-to-work legislation,” said Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer. “He believes there are enough votes to pass it in Assembly. But he will let Senate act first.”

Footnote:  Legislative archives show that then-Rep. Walker co-sponsored Senate Bill 459 in the 1993-94 session. It would have made Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the non-profit WisconsinEye public affairs channel. Contact him at

7 thoughts on “The State of Politics: Why Walker Resists Right to Work Law”

  1. Rich says:

    >>>> “Legislative archives show that then-Rep. Walker co-sponsored Senate Bill 459 in the 1993-94 session.” <<<<
    Too bad voters' memories are so short. This alone is enough of a "distraction".

  2. PMD says:

    So in reality he is intimidated by certain issues. I knew I couldn’t trust the title of that book.

  3. Jac says:

    It’s more complicated than that. Many union members are religious conservative blue collar workers. Walker risks alienating his otherwise conservative base by standing against their right to collectively bargain for reasonable compensation and (more importantly) safe working conditions.

  4. Doug says:

    You seem to forget one thing, the Republican primary voter (i.e., the base) would consider it a badge of honor if union activists were protesting outside one of his speeches. That would actually increase his popularity with them. And would help with the party nomination. He would run into an issue in the general election — maybe. On the other hand he won’t get elected — the dead stare, beady eyes and crooked head just won’t play nationally. Look at the last half dozen or so races, the most attractive candidate won. Maybe not what people want to hear, but true nonetheless.

  5. David says:

    Sleaze, corruption, fascism seems to sell well with many in the Walker fan club. Many of us know that deceitful skilled politicians like Walker lead to a downward spiral and dead end. This is proven by Wisconsin’s last in place comparison in meaningful measured categories in the Midwest and in the USA.

  6. PMD says:

    If Romney and Bush run, along with Marco Rubio, Walker is out of the race before he even officially declares. Maybe his intent is to position himself as a strong VP candidate.

  7. James says:

    What will be fun to watch, if he gets into the race, will be the other Republicans blasting his dismal economic and jobs record. The Walker sycophants won’t be able to blame liberal lies for that. Maybe that will help the folks here at home figure out the truth.

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