Wisconsin governor has valid concerns

Guest Editorial
The week-old political standoff might well be the stuff of comedy if it were fiction. Democratic lawmakers hiding from votes. Protesters comparing Madison, Wis., to Cairo or Bahrain, where protests are for indisputable human rights. This week, an online blogger successfully pulled a prank call on Gov. Scott Walker.

Too bad this is what passes for civil discourse. There are real issues at stake, not just for the Badger State but for the nation.

The key here is the role of public employee unions. Walker wants to abolish most of their collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin, block them from collecting dues through payroll deduction and have them face a vote of their members to stay in operation each year.

It is a strong — critics say strong-handed — agenda, but Walker brings it to the fore with good reason. Beyond getting state employees to pay more for health care and pensions, he wants to limit the unions’ clout as local governments work their way out of budget problems.

New York Times columnist David Brooks, meanwhile, nicely articulates the broader issue:

“Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.”

Public-sector unions limit the ability of governments to do their job best. We have seen that here in Michigan and Jackson, where firefighters once tried to persuade city voters to require minimum staffing levels.

We do not follow Wisconsin politics closely enough to know whether Walker is trying to effect change ideally. He certainly has galvanized his opponents, and the scarring from this political death match will not heal easily.

But the Wisconsin governor has valid concerns, ones that deserve a rigorous, healthy discussion — not grandstanding and pranks.

He also was elected legitimately and, from all accounts, is carrying out the agenda that he promised to voters. He is doing his job.

That is more than anyone can say for the Democratic lawmakers who are refusing to show their faces in the Capitol.