Wisconsin labor fight started ugly, ended ugly

by Byron York, Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner
June 5, 2012

For some so-called progressives in Wisconsin, the threat posed by Gov. Scott Walker's policy limiting the collective-bargaining powers of some public employees has justified almost any response.

Democratic lawmakers fled the state rather than allow a vote on Walker's proposal.

Some teachers and other public employees abandoned their jobs to protest in the streets.

Some doctors violated ethics standards by issuing medical excuses for protesting teachers who walked out on students.

Unions threatened boycotts against businesses that declined to publicly side with organized labor.
AFL-CIO officials equated the cause of comfortable and well-paid unionized employees with the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and striking Memphis garbage collectors.

Anti-Walker forces set off an astonishing controversy amid a state Supreme Court election when they alleged that one justice had physically attacked another.

Unions successfully pushed for recall elections against several Republican lawmakers, resulting in two losing their seats.

And finally, the intense, lasting anger on the union side led to a recall election for Walker himself. And in the final hours before that vote, anti-Walker activists have spread ugly and baseless rumors that Walker is about to be indicted and -- in perhaps the lowest and most ridiculous point of the entire spectacle -- that Walker fathered an illegitimate child in college.

The indictment rumor was the work of the lefty television network Current, relying on what appears to be guesswork and supposition. Walker called it "100 percent wrong." But the report shot through a liberal blogosphere desperate for anything to use against Walker.

Then, over the weekend, an organization called the Wisconsin Citizens Media Co-op, which bills itself as "a group of citizen journalists who began covering the Wisconsin Uprising in February, 2011," posted an article on its website recounting the story of a woman who said her roommate had been Walker's girlfriend at Marquette University. The woman said her roommate became pregnant by Walker in the 1980s, that Walker had encouraged the roommate to have an abortion, and that when she chose not to abort the child, Walker denied paternity and took off.

None of it is true. The actual mother in question told a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter that Walker was not the father of her child, and it appears the accusers may have confused a 1980s paternity case involving a Scott A. Walker with the governor, who is Scott K. Walker.

Never mind. Like the indictment tale, the "Walker love child" story raced around the left-wing Web world.

"This is another attempt to find an issue that will distract voters from Walker's record," says Rep. Jim Steineke, a conservative Republican lawmaker who represents Wisconsin's 5th Assembly District. "They keep trying to shift the message. First, it was about collective bargaining. Then it was about jobs. Then it was about the 'war on women.' They've been desperately trying to find a message that resonates with voters, and they haven't found it."

The indictment and love child stories might strike outside observers as off the wall, but for many Wisconsinites, those tales are just two more episodes in a long, exhausting drama.

"[The anti-Walker forces] are sensing it slipping through their fingers," says Matt Batzel, who is organizing Tea Party support for Walker through a group called American Majority. "They realize that all they've worked for in the past 14 months, and the millions of dollars labor has spent, is almost all for naught."

Despite much talk about the polls "tightening" in the past few days, Walker has held a consistent, if narrow, lead over Democratic challenger Tom Barrett. Perhaps even more discouraging for organized labor are polls showing that voters not only support Walker -- they support the heart of Walker's reforms.

Requiring unionized public employees to pay more for their pensions and health coverage? Seventy-five percent public support, according to a new Marquette Law School poll. Limiting collective bargaining for most public employees? Fifty-five percent support. And when the Marquette pollsters asked whether Wisconsin was better off or worse off as a result of Walker's changes, voters said better off, 54 percent to 42 percent.

So it's no wonder the anti-Walker movement, an effort that started with elected lawmakers literally fleeing the state rather than do their jobs, is ending with one last show of ugliness and rancor. Walker knew making fundamental changes would be hard. He probably didn't think it would be this hard. But if the polls are correct, he is about to enjoy a final vindication.

Photo: Bob Segal/Flickr

Byron York, The Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blogposts appear on