DiSalvo illustrates this process by examining the California Correctional Peace Officer Association and their efforts to get more prisons built:
Throughout the 1980s and ’90s, the CCPOA lobbied the state government to increase California’s prison facilities — since more prisons would obviously mean more jobs for corrections officers. And between 1980 and 2000, the Golden State constructed 22 new prisons for adults (before 1980, California had only 12 such facilities). The CCPOA also pushed for the 1994 “three strikes” sentencing law, which imposed stiff penalties on repeat offenders. The prison population exploded — and, as intended, the new prisoners required more guards. The CCPOA has been no less successful in increasing members’ compensation: In 2006, the average union member made $70,000 a year, and more than $100,000 with overtime. Corrections officers can also retire with 90% of their salaries as early as age 50. Today, an amazing 11% of the state budget — more than what is spent on higher education — goes to the penal system.
How do you beat this sort of naked aggression against the taxpayer? The Scott Walker reform that got the state of Wisconsin out of the business of collecting dues for the unions would seem to be the answer. Giving state workers a choice in whether to join a union resulted in a 45% drop in membership in Wisconsin public employee unions. Fewer members paying dues means smaller campaign contributions, which could trim the political power of the unions.
But where can this success be repeated? The one political lesson other reform-minded governors might draw from Wisconsin is not that challenging the unions is a great idea and the other 49 state executives should rush out and try it. Indeed, the opposite is true. “Even with this loss, Wisconsin’s voters have sent a clear message that attacks on workers’ rights will not go unchallenged,” said Gerald McEntee, the president of AFSCME. Most governors don’t want that kind of headache.
Walker survived — but so will public unions for the foreseeable future.
3. Obama, the left, and the unions will come back strong from this debacle. Using a boxing analogy, Obama and the left got socked in the jaw and have been given a standing eight count. But it’s still the early rounds, and the opposition has plenty of time to regroup, refocus, and come roaring back with a vengeance.
That’s the plan, anyway. And it starts with money. Despite the setback in Wisconsin, unions will still be spending upwards of $500 million in direct and in-kind contributions to elect Democrats in the fall, after spending $450 million in 2008. The Democratic campaign committees in the House and Senate are outraising their GOP counterparts. Fundraising for the presidential race will be more evenly matched than last time when Obama outspent John McCain by 4-1, but it’s far too early to believe that the Wisconsin victory will be a game changer in that regard. Walker outspent Barrett by 8-1, largely because he was able to get an early start in fundraising due to a quirk in Wisconsin election law and the fact that the Democrats stupidly split their resources in an unnecessary primary campaign. That advantage is not going to carry over to the general election which will make Democrats much more competitive.
Laughably, many Democrats are whining about the fundraising imbalance — something they were strangely silent on in 2008 when President Obama raised $750 million, swamping the McCain campaign. They will dig deep to try to match the spending coming from conservative Super PACs with an increased effort of their own to fund liberal groups. While Romney dealt a surprise to Obama in May by outraising him $76.8 million to around $60 million, the president still has a large advantage in total money raised. Adding the May fundraising to the numbers from the end of April, Romney has raised about $175 million to Obama’s $277 million. That gap will probably narrow, but Obama has far more cash on hand. This is to be expected since Romney had a competitive primary contest. But for the next crucial months, the president can spend lavishly while Romney must slowly build his organization and gather resources for the push this fall.
A final thought: The Walker victory had many fathers, while the Democrats’ defeat had only one orphan: poor, lonely President Obama. He is the leader of the party and could have unleashed a nationwide effort from Democrats in the last month of the campaign and put his prestige on the line by visiting the state to gin up enthusiasm and support for the Democratic candidate Tom Barrett. Either he miscalculated what was at stake or he feared he had more to lose than gain with such an effort. Both explanations reveal a lack of courage and foresight on the president’s part. His inaction has depressed his party and put a charge in Republicans.
There is still time to rectify his mistake. But with five months to go before Election Day, Obama may very will learn to regret this blunder.