George Michael: What would 'Fighting Bob' think today?

June 14, 2012|By GEORGE MICHAEL

Robert La Follette must be rolling over in his grave. “Fighting Bob” La Follette was the hard-charging Progressive Party governor and senator from Wisconsin in the first 25 years of the 20th century. Opposing big corporations and an advocate of increasing power to labor unions, La Follette was the epitome of progressive politics in his day, a very popular and successful political hero for liberals. His progressive legacy, especially in his home state, is legendary.

Last week’s election results in Wisconsin signal a turn of 180 degrees from the Wisconsin of 100 years ago. The success of Gov. Scott Walker in bringing historic, landmark changes in Wisconsin, and then surviving a costly and divisive recall election marks a new day of hope for fiscal sanity. 

The jig might be up for public service unions in American.  And it is none too soon. As William Bennett noted last week in an article at, the Wisconsin election “affirmed Gov. Scott Walker’s reforms and put an end to the state’s unholy alliance between big government and big labor. The reign of entrenched public sector unions may be over and a new era of self-governing fiscal responsibility beginning.”

The unholy alliance is a money-laundering scheme of sorts.  Labor unions work tirelessly to elect politicians who, once in office, pass favorable legislation granting ever more generous benefits to union members. The money for their political action comes from the compulsory union dues. 

When Walker pointed out that the system in place was unsustainable and reforms were needed for the survival of his state, he was viciously attacked and demonized by labor leaders and much of the media across the nation.

You will remember the outraged protests in Wisconsin last year when the unions and leftists occupied or, more accurately, trashed the state Capitol building in Madison to demand the legislature stop what Walker was doing. Teachers handed out fake doctor’s notes to skip school to go to the protests. When Republicans held their ground, a few Democratic legislators even fled across the border to avoid voting on the changes. Seemed a bit juvenile, didn’t it?

One of Walker’s accomplishments noted by Bennett was ending mandatory union dues. As a result, AFSCME’s Local Union 24 in Madison has seen its ranks drop from 22,300 members to just over 7,000. When given freedom of choice, a good number of union members would rather not have their money go to causes they do not support. Interestingly, election-night exit polls indicated that voters with a union member in their household voted for Walker by 38 percent.

When public sector unions go on strike, are they not striking against taxpayers, people who face constantly rising property taxes to pay for the plush benefits that most of those who are being taxed do not enjoy?  No wonder both President Franklin D. Roosevelt and labor leader of the past George Meany believed public sector unions were a bad idea. 

On the same night as Walker’s victory, the voters in San Jose, Calif., and San Diego voted in referendums by wide margins to reduce pension benefits for retired city workers. To retire after 30 years and get 90 percent of your final working pay is simply unreasonable. Many of those pensions are more than $100,000. If this movement to curb such outlandish schemes is catching on in California, there is good reason to hope for change in many other communities across our nation. 

Liberals have been in denial, whining about how much money was spent by outside groups to influence election results and how much more money Republicans spent than Democrats. Are they suggesting that the voters of Wisconsin are stupid and were duped by a slick advertising campaign? Such a lame explanation shows an arrogant disdain for voters. Voters had plenty of time to make up their minds and decide what was needed for Wisconsin.  Conservative ads gave balance to the “free” media coverage given to the unions. Common sense prevailed over the hysteria generated by the left.

The fight for fiscal responsibility does not come cheaply but it is a battle worth fighting. It takes a courageous leader. “Fighting Bob” himself could not disagree with that idea. 

George Michael, who lives in Williamsport, is a former principal of Grace Academy. His email address is

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