JACK SPENCER: Resetting the political barometer

Right To Work bill heats up what otherwise would have been a quiet lame duck session

  What’s that old saying about the weather in Michigan? If you don’t like it; just wait a few minutes and it will change. A whole lot of folks are probably thinking the same thing about Michigan politics at the moment. On our current political roller coaster ride, this latest swing is most assuredly to the right. Michigan is on the brink of becoming the nation’s 24th Right To Work state. There’s virtually no doubt that Michigan’s House of Representatives will pass Right To Work bills this week – probably on Tuesday. These same bills were just passed by the Senate. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the legislation into law when it reaches his desk. News that Michigan is becoming a Right To Work state will send a signal that should boost the morale of conservatives across the country. And it’s happening exactly when it is most sorely needed. Following the reelection of President Barack Obama last month the conservative movement in America was shaken. It wasn’t just that Obama won, it was why he won. A large number of conservatives assumed from the start that it was a foregone conclusion that their base would turnout in big numbers. It wouldn’t be necessary for the Republican candidate to stir up the base, they reasoned - Obama’s performance in his first term would do that automatically. This assumption formed the lens through which most on the “political right” viewed the entire race. November’s election result proved this hard-wired assumption had been untrue. When core assumptions turn out to be faulty, disillusion sets in. Recovering from such a setback is difficult. But now Michigan – of all places – is providing balm to sooth the wounds Ironically, exactly one month after the election, on Dec. 6, Snyder and Michigan GOP leaders announced they wanted Right To Work legislation to be passed. Then, on the very same day (last Thursday), they demonstrated that they had the votes to do it. Presuming they finish it off  – and there’s no reason to believe they won’t – it will provide a much needed lift for the conservative movement across the nation. It will reassert the fact that everything in the USA isn’t moving inexorably to the left. Dynamics at the state and local levels are pushing in the other direction. For an array of reasons, the so-called Armageddon proposal – Proposal 2 on Michigan’s ballot – never got the attention it deserved nationally. Its defeat showed that voters don’t all march to one tune. Instead, voters exercise individual judgment on individual issues. Obama may have won Michigan, but the unions lost here – and they lost big. Make no mistake about it, we wouldn’t be on the verge of becoming a Right To Work state if Proposal 2 had passed. Also, we wouldn’t be there if polling in recent years hadn’t repeatedly shown that a majority of likely voters in Michigan solidly support Right To Work. Polls have repeatedly shown that most Michigan voters reject the premise that any employee should be forced to support a union. If the employee chooses to do so, that’s fine – but it should be their free choice. Confusing rhetoric can temporarily blur the issue, but the central meaning of Right To Work is very straight forward and clear. That’s what makes it so hard for the unions to confront. Snyder’s principle reason for staying away from Right To Work over the past two years, was that he knew it would suck up all of the political oxygen in Lansing. He feared that a protracted battle over Right To Work would interfere with his efforts to accomplish other goals. One of his primary goals was to make incremental changes to the collective bargaining landscape. Snyder made no secret of the fact that he wanted these changes to bring the salaries and benefits of government union employees in line with those in the private sector. This wasn’t an original idea. Former Governor Jennifer Granholm’s blue ribbon panel made the same recommendation in 2007. She just opted to ignore it. But when Snyder moved forward with his plans, the unions fought him tooth and nail. Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Proposal 2. It was a huge overreach by the unions. It was also a mammoth union mistake that brought Right To Work to center stage. Apparently at some point – probably over the summer – Snyder realized that if Proposal 2 was defeated (and he wholehearted wanted it to be defeated) it would be impossible for him to sidestep Right to Work. He would have to make a decision on it – either support it or oppose it. He now supports it and wants it. What’s interesting is that the unions were aware that they’d forced open Pandora’s box. Immediately following the defeat of Proposal 2, union leaders in Lansing clearly expected the Republicans to try to pass Right To Work. Meanwhile, Republicans down-played the issue. In fact they did such a good job of playing it down that some Lansing insiders were fooled. It appeared that in mid November many of these insiders thought there would be an effort to pass Right To Work. But as the days went by, many of them began to doubt it. It seemed that the idea had lost momentum This quiet approach by the Republicans was very effective. It made the unions unsure and gave the news media little or nothing to cover. Snyder knew there would be a fight, but wanted to make it as short a fight as possible. Imagine what would have happened if the Republicans had tried to pass Right To Work legislation last spring. The unions would have bused protesters to the Capitol week after week. The diversion would have turned efforts to simply pass the state’s regular annual budget into a circus. On an issue like Right To Work, which has been around for decades, hearings and debates change no one’s mind. Lawmakers are either for it, or against it. Watching the debate on Michigan’s Senate floor Thursday, one was reminded of the debate over Right To Work in Indiana last January. Indiana’s Democrats had the same complaints that Michigan’s Democrats had – including the charge that issue hadn’t been discussed enough. This was so, even though the Indiana General Assembly (its legislature)  had tussled over Right To Work publicly more than a year. Now, however, after the voters thoroughly thumped the union power grab (Proposal 2) and rejected union claims in Wisconsin,hired union protesters are no more than distractions. Unless something unforeseen takes place, by Wednesday the Legislature will have dealt with Right To Work in just five days. Michigan would be the state with the highest percentage of union workers to ever pass a Right To Work law. It would also be the only state to ever do it on the first try. There should be no illusions, however. The unions will strike back. They’ll try to knock Right To Work down in the courts. They may well also attempt to recall some lawmakers. But their margin for any sort of overall victory is beginning to look very slim.