Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper participated in an ABC News governors roundtable this weekend, where he talked with host Jake Tapper and Governors Deval Patrick (D-Mass.), Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) and Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.). The short segment spotlights the cross talk on events in Wisconsin, a combination of spin and willful non-engagement.
Hickenlooper was typically Hickenlooper: He wasn’t knee-jerk; he was conciliatory as he tried to move beyond the narrow left-right politics world view that dominates talk shows like Tapper’s. Hickenlooper suggested Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was simply exhibiting bad leadership, that the discussion over public union collective bargaining should never have come to such a stand-off.
“Well, you know, when I spent a number of years in the restaurant business and sometimes we took over failing restaurants, the first thing we did was reach out to the workforce, to the workers, and say, ‘All right, if we’ve got to cut costs and try to find new ways of making difficult decisions and delivering services with less, you can – you’re the ones who have to help us.’ And I think it’s a challenge to have that kind of division and adversarial relationship…it’s going to make it very tough for them to get to the point where they can make their government smaller and yet, more effective.”
The facts are on Hickenlooper’s side. Walker isn’t working incrementally with lawmakers to get the budget in line or to build jobs. On the contrary, he has staked out radical ground on a topic sure to inflame partisan passions.
Hickenlooper, who won kudos from Republicans and groans from Democrats last week when he introduced a school-funds-slashing budget, talked about how he has approached the split legislature here in Colorado, where the Senate is controlled by Democrats and the House by Republicans.
“I think the key– and again this is the restaurant background where you learn real early there’s no margin in having enemies– but we’ve been trying to reach out to Republicans from before the inauguration and say, ‘All right, how can we work together? We need your ideas, we’ve all got . . .’ I mean, this country, we shouldn’t be talking about these polarized topics. We should be talking about jobs and how do we all make the investments in education and infrastructure and technology and innovation to move this– All 50 states, we should be competing against each other to see who can drive our economies the fastest. And, you know, the budget’s tough. It’s difficult. But if everyone’s at the table, we’ll get through it.”
Walker is clearly not looking to keep everyone at the table in his state. He has driven Democratic lawmakers away from their homes and families and drawn thousands of people to Madison from around the state to specifically protest his agenda and his leadership style.
Back at the ABC roundtable, Republican governors Haley and Brewer didn’t even try to see events in Wisconsin from a minority-party point of view. They kept calling the Democratic lawmakers who fled to Illinois “cowards” — as did host Tapper– ignoring the fact that those lawmakers have become heroes to their many supporters, who see them as having acted bravely and creatively in response to the no-win situation in which they found themselves.
Haley, who said she talks to Walker regularly, treated the facts of the matter like filthy rag dolls unworthy of respect. She said the Wisconsin public employee unions wouldn’t accept benefit cuts to help trim the budget in the state. That’s more than a misreading of the situation and none of the governors on the panel nor Tapper called her out on it.
“These employees opposed the health care cuts; they opposed the benefits cut; so they’re saying no to everything. The collective bargaining is a combination of all of that,” she said.
The first sentence is an untrue discredited GOP talking point and the second is intentionally reductive.
In fact, as has been widely reported, the public employee union members in Wisconsin agreed to accept all the cuts Walker asked them to accept. The sticking point in the matter and the reason people are protesting in Madison is the fact that Walker will not budge on wanting to end the public workers’ legal long-established right to collectively bargain, and collective bargaining is not about a “combination of all of that,” as Haley said, whatever that means, it’s specifically about wages and benefits and working conditions. Collective bargaining is about having the power to negotiate how much work you can do in how much time and in what kind of space and with what kind of equipment and for how much money and benefits. Collective bargaining is about not having to drill rivets for fifteen hours a day without a break or proper security gear. It’s about not having to teach 40 kindergartners in a tiny improperly ventilated windowless room for ten hours a day.
A Wisconsin cancer ward nurse told NPR this week that her union negotiated how many chemotherapy patients it would be legal for her to treat simultaneously on the job. The union capped the number at four. The nurse said that any more would have been too much, that more than four would have strained patient safety and nurse sanity.
It’s consideration of those kind of details that Hickenlooper’s approach (“the restaurant background”) seems to place at the front of political-governmental discussions and they’re the kind of details that Haley seems to care about not so much at all.
Hat tip to Who Said You Said.