I want my party back

Today a guest blogger, Marc Seals, offers another perspective on politics and the turmoil in Wisconsin:

After nearly two decades of being a Republican, I must face the reality that my party has abandoned me.

In the early 1990s, I became a registered Republican. I was a public school English teacher in Georgia who felt betrayed by the leftward shift of the Democratic Party; it seemed that there was no longer room for moderate or conservative Democrats. I took the call for the Republican Party to be a “big tent” at face value and jumped ship.

I was strongly opposed to the idea of teachers being unionized. Unions were for blue-collar workers, I thought. Unions create an antagonistic relationship between employees and management, I thought. In fact, I was the campus representative for two non-union teachers associations– the Professional Association of Georgia Educators and the Professional Educators’ Network (in Florida). These organization existed to provide an alternative to the teachers’ unions; even so, I never heard anyone within those organizations say that the unions did not have a fundamental right to exist.

Even when I returned to graduate school, I stuck by my conservative principles. This was rather lonely at times, I will confess, but I believe that education should not be a partisan issue. I have never voted straight party line, because I agree with the Clinton-era Republican mantra that “character counts.” Nevertheless, I have voted for far more Republicans than Democrats over the last two decades.

I finally earned my PhD in 2004 (after ten years of college), and I moved to Wisconsin to take a position on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County. The pay here was quite a bit lower than in other Midwestern states, but the benefits package helped make up for that. We were paid less because the benefits were more generous. I fell in love with Wisconsin and the Baraboo community. I have become a die-hard Packers fan. I root for the Badgers (unless they are playing my alma mater). I have endured the coldest weather in decades (2006) and the snowiest winter on record (2007) with my smile intact. In short, I have made this my home.

Every year that I have lived here, we have not received even a cost of living increase; we accepted this because we were told that it was the only way that we could keep our benefits package. When the economy sunk into recession, we had a legislatively approved raise taken away and replaced by furloughs that amounted to a 3% cut in pay. We have endured this pay cut for each of the last two years. When people ask what I make as a professor, I ask them what they think I make– they usually guess a sum that is at least twice my salary. In addition, we accepted larger class sizes (and thus a larger grading burden) to help the state balance the budget.

Now the governor says that it is time that state employees pay their share. After years of flat salaries and even pay cuts, to hear that we have not sacrificed is insulting and disingenuous. I teach 100 students a semester in classes in American literature, film, and composition. I am the faculty sponsor of the Navigators Christian Fellowship, the faculty sponsor of the UW-BSC Disc Golf Club, and the Director of the Honors Program. I work about sixty hours a week (because that is how long it takes to do my job well). In short, I work hard and (I think) do a good job (as may be evidenced by the fact that three times in four years, the students have selected me as “faculty member of the year”).

The so-called Budget Repair Bill will represent a reduction in my take-home pay of somewhere between 8 and 13 percent, depending upon whose figures you believe. A cut like this will be devastating to my family. I fear that we will need to sell our home. We may even need to seek employment elsewhere. This prospect would break my heart, because I really do love it here. Governor Walker has said that we are the “haves.” A comment to a recent Baraboo News Republic letter to the editor suggested that all the professors drove Jaguars and Mercedes. No one on our campus drives anything like that. (I, for the record, drive a 2003 Honda with a check-engine light that has been on for six years, a broken door lock, and a malfunctioning interior light.)

Even so, I find it most distressing that the bill takes away the right of workers to have collective bargaining. Wisconsin was the pioneer of workers’ rights 75 years ago; it is disheartening to watch this reversed. The United Nations’ “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (to which the United States is a signatory) asserts “that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”; this declaration lists as one of its articles “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his [or her] interests.” The faculty at UW-BSC are not unionized. In fact, very few of the 26 institutions within the University of Wisconsin system have voted to unionize. This may very well be because we wanted to avoid an antagonistic stance toward administration and the legislature. That antagonism is, sadly, now a foregone conclusion.

I will not revisit in any detail the arguments that show the absurdity of Governor Walker’s arguments. It has been well-documented that Governor Walker is misrepresenting the fiscal crisis for political gain; regardless, he has clearly overplayed his hand. A poll released this week shows that the majority of Wisconsinites agree. Governor Walker does not seem concerned, insisting that he is backed by a “quiet majority.” If he valued education enough to listen, I could teach him about the Greek concept of hubris—excessive pride or self-confidence to the point of dismissive arrogance. Hubris was the downfall of many Greek heroes, and it will likely prove to be Governor Walker’s downfall as well.

The recording of the prank phone call released Wednesday demonstrates that the governor is willing to engage in dirty political tricks, duping Democratic senators into returning to Madison. Even more damaging was the confession that he considered planting troublemakers in amongst the peaceful demonstrators. Finally, he agreed to accept an illegal trip to California. If this administration is what the Republican Party has become, then I must wonder where that leaves me. I know where it leaves Walker– poised to hand the state back to the Democrats in the next election cycle and become a footnote in state history.

Personally, I pray that Governor Walker listens to the voters and sits down with the opposition to negotiate. Regardless, I want him to know one thing—I want my party back.

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4 thoughts on “I want my party back

  1. Marc,

    The Republican party isn’t holding you hostage. Become an Independent if you wish. Or go “Green” or Libertarian or whatever. I’ve rarely heard any Republicans quote something from the United Nations, so maybe it’s not the best fit anyway.

    It’s not about Republican versus Democrat anymore, either, so I don’t think your party affiliation matters. It’s more about the Constitution versus those who want to distort it — you know, like believeing collective bargaining is a right.

    You mention that you stuck by your conservative principles. What were they? Do you still stick by them?

    Regardless, all of the pay cuts, furloughs, and stolen raises happened to you prior to Scott Walker getting elected. Those were the solutions of the decision makers in place at that time.

    You mention that with this bill your take home pay will drop eight to 13%, but you fail to mention that the money will be put toward your own retirement and benefits — so at least compared to the previous pay cuts and furloughs, Governor Walker’s solution is not taking money out of your pocket.

    You expended a lot of text laying out your qualifications and awards and they are impressive. As devastating as it might be for you to leave Wisconsin your qualifications will serve you well getting hired elsewhere. Who knows? If you get the ability to negotiate your own salary and benefits somewhere else (or in Wisconsin if you stick around) and you lay it out for a potential employer like you’ve laid it out here, you could be better off.

    As far as the prank call goes, please don’t be disingenuous. The person who called him completely misrepresented who he was. He pretended to be someone who could donate a lot of money to the Governors campaign. The caller was dishonest and was asking leading questions and making outrageous remarks with the express purpose of taping the conversation and posting it on a blog. The Governor had no reason to believe the caller was anyone other than who he represented himself to be. As such, he remained polite, and responded.

    The fact is the Governor did say that they did consider planting people amongnst the protesters, but decided against it. Do you give him credit for exploring all options and making a reasonable decision? No. You make it sound as if simply exploring the option of planting folks was evil. Advisors get paid to come up with every scenario and present options. I choose to give the Governor credit for not only telling (who he thought was) a high dollar donor that he decided against it, but also giving the reason.

    And he didn’t accept an illegal trip to California. A trip was suggested for after the bill passes using a “we should get together” type of phrase and the Governor said something along the lines of, “Absolutely.” There was no mention of dates or how the trip would be paid for. There was no agreement to anything at all specific. To characterize that as accepting an illegal trip is a joke.

    You mention a poll, but you don’t give us the data, link to it, or tell us who took the poll. I saw one poll that suggested the folks in Wisconsin supported the protesters, but it only sampled 100 people. I chose to disregard it.

    If you have a poll that actually shows us that Wisconsonites feel that the governor overplayed his hand, let’s see it. I’m curious what overplaying his hand means.

  2. I have been inundated with emails, calls, and messages about my note (which started out on Facebook). I hope that you will understand if I do not engage in debate beyond this reply to your rebuttal. If further rebuttal is needed, I will trust others to jump in.

    You are correct that I am not held hostage by the Republican Party. I now must consider myself independent– and that’s okay.

    My take-home pay will go down by more than ten percent. Spin it as you like, but that is a fact. Not many people could absorb such a cut without warning. Yes, I realize that there are those who are worse off. Such thinking reminds me of the of Soviet joke: “My neighbor has a cow and I have none; I want his cow to die.”

    As far as the prank call goes, I was not being disingenuous in the least. If, say, a student (or parent of a student) said to me that he or she would like to give me a generous gift, I would politely decline the offer. When the faux Koch offered to fly him to “Cali” and show him “a good time,” the governor said, “All right. That would be outstanding.” I do not give “credit for exploring all options” to a governor who admits that he thought about planting troublemakers; I find that thought absurd. I do not want to vote for people who will consider illegal or unethical actions. I realize that I am being naïve .

    The U.N. resolution that I cited was not a recent U.N. action. It was one from 1948, long before the UN. developed a reputation for being anti-American. Regardless, I do think that the United States is bound to honor treaties and such that we have signed unless we formally withdraw from such agreements.

    As far as the polls, I have seen several. Here is one that I saw today.
    http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/BarrettWalkerRematchResults.pdf

    Finally, I’d like to add that one of my main reasons for posting this was that I am tired of the politics of anger and hate (from both sides). I just wanted to tell my story.

    • Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling (the source for your referenced poll) wrote:

      “The difference between how folks would vote now and how they voted in November can almost all be attributed to shifts within union households. Voters who are not part of union households have barely shifted at all – they report having voted for Walker by 7 points last fall and they still say they would vote for Walker by a 4 point margin. But in households where there is a union member voters now say they’d go for Barrett by a 31 point margin, up quite a bit from the 14 point advantage they report having given him in November.”

      Well, duh…

  3. Marc,

    I know you mentioned you will be relying on others to reply on your behalf. Simple questions that you may know off-hand, really… if you decide to change your mind.

    1. Your poll states that 32% of respondants said that they are union members. What percentage of Wisconsin’s population is in a union?

    2. How exactly does your poll show that Governor Walker overplayed his hand?

    3. Your stance on the trouble maker thing with the prank call is amusing. First of all, the protesters are at the state house to be troublemakers themselves. Almost every live shot from FoxNews was disrupted by troublemakers yelling, “Fox lies!” over and over. Why is it only okay for the unions and teachers to send troublemakers? Aren’t counter protesters allowed to go to the state house? And I’m wondering if the union leaders knowingly sent any troublemakers… Nah! That’s crazy talk. You don’t hold the unions to the standard you are pretending the governor should be held to.

    4. About this UN thing — what is your point there? That people would not be able to form or join a trade union..?

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