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Opinion: Editorials

Examiner Editorial: Big Labor loses on its own turf

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Photo - Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (AP photo)
Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (AP photo)
Opinion,Editorial

The presidency was on the line last Tuesday, but it wasn't the only thing on the ballot. Several state-level elections will have lasting consequences far beyond their borders.

Earlier this year, Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker, handily defeated a Big Labor-led effort to recall him from office. But in the same recall election, Republicans narrowly lost the state Senate. They regained control in last week's election, picking up three seats.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, Michigan's ballot Proposal No. 2, which would have enshrined collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, was soundly defeated. So was another Michigan ballot proposal, which would have allowed unions to force home health care workers to pay dues against their will.

These two states have long been viewed as Big Labor's home turf. And so Big Labor's defeats suggest that reform of state and municipal governments, including the reining in of unions' power, is possible. This would have seemed unthinkable just a few elections ago.

Walker's reforms constituted a direct attack on union influence. Big Labor and its allies fought back with everything they had in three offseason elections, but in the end they couldn't follow through on their threats to make an example out of him. Although some of the reforms remain tangled in court, Walker and his legislative majority stand as living proof that taking on public-sector unions isn't political suicide.

The battle cost Wisconsin unions dearly, too. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lost nearly half its members in the state after Walker allowed public employees to opt out of paying dues.

The Michigan ballot proposals were part of labor's grand scheme to prevent anyone from following in Walker's footsteps. Once again, labor overreached, pushing an amendment to the state constitution that would have effectively allowed union contracts to override the state legislature. The unions lost badly, 58 to 42 percent, in the home of the auto industry and the United Auto Workers.

That has energized statehouse Republicans eager to push legislation to make Michigan a right-to-work state in the hopes of turning around its dismal economy. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has demurred on pushing the idea but has said he would sign it if it landed on his desk. That would make Michigan the 24th state to adopt right-to-work laws, following Indiana. It could also prompt other states with struggling economies to look at the idea.

Public-sector unions and their vast power over state legislatures have made needed budgetary reforms nearly impossible. That situation could be nearing its end. Teachers unions took a hit last week as well, as Georgia voters approved public charter schools. Charters also won at the ballot box in Washington state, where they had been defeated three times previously.

Unions did have some victories last week, too. Michigan's Public Act 4, which gave state emergency managers broad powers to cut spending -- including breaking union contracts -- was narrowly repealed at the ballot box. In California, Proposition 32 failed -- it would have forced unions to get permission before deducting dues from members' paychecks.

But these victories merely consist of maintaining the status quo, something that will become increasingly difficult as state budget problems mount. Reforms like Wisconsin's and Indiana's will inevitably become more attractive.

Voters in California also gave the Democrats a two-thirds supermajority in the legislature, enabling them to do whatever they want on taxes and spending. The liberal vision of paradise -- unbridled union power, untouchable entitlements and soaring taxes on high earners -- is on the horizon. We'll see soon how that works out.

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