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.
“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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org