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A US Governor balances the books without raising taxes, by reforming public sector unions... and wins re-election

By Tim Montgomerie
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There are two important US-related pieces of news overnight. First is that another very senior leader of al-Qeada has been killed by a drone strike. It has been one of the strengths of the Obama presidency that he has continued to take the fight to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and is succeeding in systematically dismantling it. My hunch, however, is that this development - just like the killing of OBL himself - will not decide whether America's 44th president is re-elected. Jobs and budgetary policies will be the determining factor. That brings us to the second piece of news.

WisconsinWisconsin's Republican Governor, Scott Walker, has survived an attempt to oust him from office. Indications are that he'll be re-elected with a bigger margin than when he was first given the job of Governor at the very start of last year. Once in office Governor Walker wasted no time and immediately set about stripping public sector unions of collective bargaining rights and forcing public sector unions to make more of a contribution to the various benefits they were receiving - benefits more generous than enjoyed by average private sector taxpayers and which were bankrupting the state. Unions went crazy. Occupying the state house for weeks on end.

Walker's reforms have been hugely successful from a fiscal point of view, however. He has balanced Wisconsin's books without raising taxes and has become a conservative hero. At the same time he became a villain for Democrats and for public sector unions, in particular. America's Left launched a recall campaign to remove him from office in the hope that (a) they could force him out of office and (b) they would discourage any other legislator in any other part of the country from imitating his reforms.

Last night the unions' gambled failed. Earlier this year they won enough signatures for a recall ballot but that ballot took place yesterday and Scott Walker was beating his Democrat opponent by 54% to 45.5% with 93% of votes counted. He told an ecstatic crowd at his victory party that "we can tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all around the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions."

Regrettably, Mitt Romney failed to appear in Wisconsin during the recall campaign but immediately seized on the result as a sign that Americans are willing to vote for fiscal conservatism. "Tonight's results," he said, "will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin. Governor Walker has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back – and prevail – against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses." The victory will also produce practical advantages for Romney. Wisconsin is a Democrat-leaning electorate and it is hard to see how Obama can keep the White House without it. Scott Walker has built an exceptionally good ground operation in the state and Romney should be able to utilise this - as well as a fired-up GOP base - in November. Romney also has a new issue - in public sector unions.

At The Weekly Standard Jay Cost correctly sees the battle as a battle about a union movement that has lost its founding purpose:

"The old craft and industrial unions had a stake in the private economy: the faster it grew, the more workers were needed, and the more money everybody made. However, that is not how public sector unionism works at all. In fact, the interest of the public sector unions is not in growing the private economy, but of socializing an ever-greater portion of the national wealth. And these unions have a decidedly clientelistic relationship with the Democratic party. They provide money for the campaign in exchange for special benefits after the election. In 2010, public sector unions (notably AFSCME, the AFT, and the NEA) chipped in $28 million to the Democratic effort; that's almost a third of the total money Democrats received from organized labor, and it does not count the value of their formal endorsements of Democratic candidates or their GOTV volunteers."

The same is, of course, true in Britain except more so. Our state is even bigger than America's and Labour's dependence on union money much greater than is true for Obama's Democrats.

Walker won, concludes National Review, because he represented the taxpayer "while his opponent represented the groups whose livelihoods depend on bilking the taxpayer". The other three ingredients of Walker's success were straight-talking, fast action and - typically for America - a lot of campaign funds. An awful lot.

This is one battle only. Public sector unions have successfully defended their privileges in other key US states - not least against the Republicans' reform-minded Governor of Ohio. Nonetheless Republicans have a smile on their face this morning and rightly so.


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