Jonathan Chait

Scott Walker's Real Motive

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I don't doubt that Scott Walker genuinely wants to close Wisconsin's short-term deficit, and he also thinks that busting the public union will make it easier to curtail spending over the long run. On the other hand, you have to be pretty naive to ignore his political motivations. Howard Fineman really advances the ball here:

The real political math in Wisconsin isn't about the state budget or the collective-bargaining rights of public employees there. It is about which party controls governorships and, with them, the balance of power on the ground in the 2012 elections.

For all of the valid concern about reining in state spending -- a concern shared by politicians and voters of all labels -- the underlying strategic Wisconsin story is this: Gov. Scott Walker, a Tea Party-tinged Republican, is the advance guard of a new GOP push to dismantle public-sector unions as an electoral force.

Last fall, GOP operatives hoped and expected to take away as many as 20 governorships from the Democrats. They ended up nabbing 12.

What happened? Well, according to postgame analysis by GOP strategists and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi -- who chaired the Republican Governors Association in 2010 -- the power and money of public-employee unions was the reason.

"We are never going to win most of these states until we can do something about those unions," one key operative said at a Washington dinner in November. "They have so much incentive to work hard politically because they are, in effect, electing their own bosses -- the Democrats who are going to pay them better and give them more benefits. And the Democrats have the incentive to be generous."

This is how top Republicans see the matter: a vicious cycle of union-to-Democrat-to-union power that they are determined to break. 

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