Gov. Walker Played Political Chicken With Public Jobs

Flickr/WisPolitics.comWisPolitics.com/Flickr


For the past week, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has wielded the threat of statewide layoffs if his controversial “budget repair bill” isn’t passed immediately. He’s said that as many as 1,500 state workers—teachers, nurses, janitors, bureaucrats, and more—could lose their jobs by July if the 14 Senate Democrats in hiding didn’t return so the Senate could vote on the bill. But while Walker casts the current layoffs as a purely fiscal issue, he’s used the threat of job losses before as political leverage, playing chicken with the livelihoods of public workers.

In the fall of 2009, Milwaukee County’s budget was in bad shape. Facing a $3 million deficit, Walker, then the county executive, went looking for places to cut. In late October, he announced plans to axe 180 county workers by Thanksgiving as a way to balance the budget. With the year drawing to a close, Walker argued, the only way to solve Milwaukee County’s financial headache was layoffs.

Not long after, though, county department chiefs returned to Walker with promises to save up to a million dollars through non-employee cuts of their own. Just as soon as he’d announced that pink slips were going out, Walker backed off. No one was getting laid off, he announced.

But here’s the kicker: In an interview a few days after backing down, Walker told a Madison radio station that the layoff threat was merely a ploy. “I needed to get their attention to show how serious we were about having a balanced budget,” Walker said on the “Sly in the Morning” show on WTDY radio.

Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said Walker has played political games like this for “his entire career.”

“He’s played games with people’s livelihoods, oftentimes with zero reason,” Zielinski says. “He kicks around the less fortunate, and this time he’s kicking aorund the working people in this state.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.