Once upon a time (like last week) in a land far, far away from where we live, there was a rather pretty state where dairy farmers make cheese, brewers make beer, other Brewers try to hit baseballs, and folks called Packers run with this odd-shaped ball up and down a field that has painted lines, cheered on by other people wearing triangle cheeses on their heads.
Except for those rare times that the baseball Brewers made it to a very special event called the playoffs, and for those not-so-rare times that the Packers ran the odd-shaped ball so well that they were given a bowl that was just, well, super, no one in other states paid much attention to this state, with the odd name of Wisconsin. After all, Wisconsin's most famous citizens were Laverne and Shirley (sorry, Lenny and Squiggy), and they were not even real people.
But then one day, perhaps due to having attended too many tea parties and not being used to the subtle caffeine kick in hotly brewed tea, folks in Wisconsin for a moment lost hold of the common sense values that had made this state such a nice place to raise families, make cheese and watch odd-shaped balls and such.
They elected people called Republicans, including the man whose job was to govern the people, a Republican named Walker.
The Republican governor invented a fiscal crisis, claiming that the state budget needed to be balanced and that could only be done by taking away the rights of public employees and their unions, especially the right of collective bargaining. What the Republican governor is doing, at least according to Robert Reich, is part of a national Republican strategy being played out on the state level where public employees are being blamed for state budget crises.
Even though unions were not the cause of the drop in state revenues from the recent recession, Republicans view these budget crises as opportunities to gut public employee unions, starting with public employees and teachers. In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his GOP-controlled legislature are trying to end almost all union rights for teachers as well as getting rid of collective bargaining rights for public employees.
But the people of Wisconsin, especially the people of Madison, the capital, awoke, stopped drinking tea, maybe started drinking wholesome Wisconsin milk instead, and united together to stop the bad Republican plans. Inspired perhaps by people in far-away lands, with exotic names like Egypt and Bahrain and Tunisia, who are putting their lives on the line to attain the freedoms that we already have, and remembering the democratic heritage of the state of Wisconsin, the people arose, first in small groups of 10 and 20 and then hundreds and then thousands. They came to the capitol with signs of protest and a determination that their union rights would not be taken away.
First came the state's public workers. Then they were joined by the teachers, and then they were joined by their students. And soon, urged on by MSNBC's Ed Schultz, their cause went national. And people arrived in Madison by the tens of thousands.
Now, because I am writing this bedtime story at the usual time I would write my columns for The Current and Gazette, Monday morning, I don't know if Wisconsin unions and the people will live happily ever after. Certainly the governor and the Republican legislature will remain in power whatever the outcome of this battle is. Some brave Democratic senators remain in hiding in another state, and folks continue to gather at the capitol and continue their protests.
But what is really happening in Madison is that ordinary people are saying that the Republicans have drunk too much tea, that they have gone too far in pushing plans that are just too radical and destructive for Americans to accept.
How far will you go, Governor Christie, in trying to take down the teachers and their union? What kind of demands will you be making as you try to deal with New Jersey's budget crisis? At least in New Jersey, the Legislature is Democratic, but will that make a difference? And will you, one day soon, wake up to find that Trenton has become another Madison?
Sweet dreams, governor.
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