Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Walker's survival could foreshadow battles in Congress

Published: Sunday, June 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, center, holds his first cabinet meeting at the state Capitol Wednesday, June 6, 2012, in Madison, Wis., after Walker beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in a recall election. Walker is flanked by his Chief of Staff Eric Schutt, left, and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

Associated Press

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The political thrills and chills never seem to end in this historic election year. Here are some national issues being hotly debated by the chattering class.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took on public sector unions and survived a dramatic recall election. What are the ramifications of his victory nationally and in Utah?

Pignanelli: "Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates."— Gore Vidal

While gloating about Wisconsin, Republicans must remember that last November Ohio voters firmly rejected restrictions imposed on public employee unions.

Our cheesehead cousins performed a great service by highlighting "the wrong way" to change public service sector employee benefits and underscored that "the Utah way" is the superior method. The contenders in the Republican U.S. Senate primary are living examples of "the Utah way" in reaching out to the other side. Dan Liljenquist garnered well-deserved national recognition when altering Utah's pension system by soliciting support from Democrats and employee unions. Sen. Orrin Hatch filled his legislative career in developing relationships with the other side (i.e. Ted Kennedy, advocacy groups, labor unions, etc.) to achieve many important accomplishments (i.e. children's health insurance, worker protections) and almost realizing the impossible dream for fiscal hawks — a balanced budget amendment.

Conversely, Wisconsin Republicans rammed through their changes with little deference to employees, unions and Democrats. This approach bred such animosity that Walker's corporate allies needed to outspend the recall advocates at least 4 to 1 to succeed.

Webb: While both sides (and Frank) are spinning the heck out of the Wisconsin results, this was just a big ugly defeat for President Obama, public employee unions and national Democrats.

Will the Walker win embolden Utah lawmakers? As a well-managed right-to-work state with pensions and benefits under control, no need exists to try to weaken Utah unions. It's worth remembering, however, that in 2007, Republican legislators suffered a major defeat at the hands of the state and national teachers unions.

Lawmakers had passed a school choice voucher bill, which was promptly challenged by the Utah Education Association and its allies. Enough signatures were quickly gathered to place the law on the November ballot as a referendum. Voters rejected the voucher legislation by a wide margin.

Thus, while many states are moving forward aggressively with school choice, the movement in Utah is essentially dead (although charter schools are making good progress). The teachers' union flexed its muscle five years ago and Utah lawmakers are still smarting, afraid to push meaningful school choice. That's unfortunate.

With five months to go in the general election, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and their many surrogates, are already well into nasty, negative campaigning. Will the eventual winner be so bloodied that it will be impossible to govern a deeply-divided country?

Webb: Wait until after the next election, our national leaders always say, then we'll solve the nation's problems. Yeah, sure. It's highly likely we'll still have divided government after November. Even if Republicans win the presidency and the Senate, they won't have 60 Senate votes to push through anything they want. I wish I could be more optimistic, but it's going to require compromise and collaboration to get the deficit and entitlements under control, to reform our crazy tax system, fix health care and establish a sensible energy policy. I sincerely hope the November victors and losers will put aside partisanship and rigid ideology to do what the country needs. But I wouldn't bet much money on it.

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