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Can The States Withstand Big Labor’s Attacks?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Some courageous American leaders are trying to prevent another California budget disaster.

But if Big Labor gets its way, the preventative measures will be abandoned.

So numerous are the examples of true statesmanship outside of Washington, that I can’t name all the individuals involved. But here are three state-wide elected leaders you should know about, whose efforts to save their states – and our nation – are absolutely not going unpunished.

The most high-profile among them is Scott Walker, the Republican Governor of Wisconsin. After taking office in January of 2011, Governor Walker proposed the “Wisconsin Budget Repair bill” to begin addressing his state’s projected $4 billion deficit.

As part of his efforts, Governor Walker sought to require unionized government employees to pay for portions of their own healthcare coverage and retirement pensions (standard fare for those of us employed in the private sector), and to bring the salaries of unionized government employees more in line with the salaries of private sector workers.

The chaos that labor unions created in Madison last year was widely covered in the national media. Today, because of his grave sins of trying to save his state from California-styled budget crises and creating more parity between government and private sector employment, Governor Walker may be on his way to making history.

Big Labor has successfully forced a recall election on June 5th of this year (costing Wisconsin taxpayers in excess of $15 million). If Wisconsin voters side with the unions on Election Day, Scott Walker will become the third Governor in U.S. history to be removed from office by recall.

Next there’s Democrat Gina Raimondo, the current Treasurer of Rhode Island. Raimondo campaigned in 2010 with the message that, as the smallest state in the union, Rhode Island nonetheless had a very big financial mess on its hands. If things didn’t change, she warned, the Ocean State would eventually end up like Athens.

Raimondo took office in January of 2011 (the same time Governor Scott Walker did). Soon after, she began working on legislative proposals that sought to better manage the state’s liquid assets, provide more financial transparency with how Rhode Island manages state retirement pensions, and – once again – to bring government employment benefits slightly more in-line with the private sector.

Now, less than seven months after the Rhode Island legislature and Governor Lincoln Chafee approved the government pension overhaul measures, Big Labor has successfully pressured enough members of the state’s General Assembly to legislatively threaten a repeal of much of what Treasurer Raimondo proposed in the first place. The unions have not yet been as inclined to publicly smear and attack Democrat Raimondo as they have been with elected Republicans, but Raimando nonetheless remains the target of vilification as she seeks to save her native state from falling off a fiscal cliff.

And then there is Idaho’s Republican State Superintendent of Education, Tom Luna. After his re-election in November of 2010, Luna proposed a series of three legislative reforms of the state’s public schools in January of 2011, entitled the “Students Come First” laws.

One of the Students Come First laws was to provide for more technology and online educational access in classrooms (rural Idaho has some of the worst internet infrastructure in the nation); another was to require transparency in how local school districts spend taxpayer funds and negotiate union contracts; and another was to allow teachers to earn merit-based bonus pay. After the proposals were introduced in the legislature, Idaho’s capitol city of Boise quickly erupted into a “mini-Wisconsin” type of uprising, and the reforms were almost scuttled.

Students and teachers skipped school and traveled to the capitol to protest. The teacher’s union and the state’s newspaper of record nicknamed “Students Come First” the “Luna Laws,” as a targeted smear campaign on the Superintendent unfolded. Luna’s personal vehicle was vandalized; his elderly mother was harassed at her home; and high school students marched at the capitol holding laptop computers chanting “this is not my teacher” (in response to the union’s spin that “Luna wants to replace teachers with laptops”).

In the spring of 2011 the Students Come First legislation narrowly passed in the legislature, and Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed the bills into law. Yet shortly thereafter, Big Labor sent enough petition signature gatherers in to Idaho from around the country and collected enough signatures to force a referendum on the reform laws.

Now Big Labor has hired Dave Williams, a political operative who has won government union victories in legislatures and at ballot boxes in Ohio, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. The AFL CIO appears ready to spend upwards of a million dollars to repeal the three education reform laws, activists are attempting their third effort to recall Superintendent Luna, and the state Republican Party has thus far refused to weigh-in on any of it.

Can America move in the right direction and save itself from the death spiral of debt? We don’t lack for statesmen and women who are willing to make the hard decisions, but voters must see through unions’ charade of selfishness.

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