Nocera and Collins

Mr. Nocera has a question in “Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Audition:”  After union-busting in his home state, what would he do if he became president?  [shudder] The mind boggles.  Ms. Collins also has a question in “Guns in Your Face:”  How would you react if the man in front of you in the Starbucks line had a gun dangling from his shoulder?  Me?  I’d get the fck out of there.  (Starbucks coffee sucks anyway…)  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Anticipating a Republican presidential bid by Scott Walker, the two-term governor of Wisconsin, both The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Monthly recently published lengthy articles about him. (The Times feature, which is in the magazine this weekend, was published online Friday.) Both articles focus on Walker’s successful battles with labor. As they should: If he runs for president, his record of union-busting will be at the very center of his campaign.

Walker’s first labor fight came in 2011, when he pushed through a bill that stripped the state’s public employee unions (firefighters and police officers excepted) of most of their collective-bargaining rights. It also forced the unions to make higher pension and health care contributions. There was a huge outcry, with union members and activists storming the Statehouse, and Democratic legislators fleeing the capital to prevent a quorum. But Walker not only got the bill passed, he then survived a recall election spearheaded by the labor unions. The fight over Act 10 — as the law was called — is the focus of The Washington Monthly article, written by Donald F. Kettl, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.

Having crippled the public sector unions, Walker more recently put the hurt on the state’s private-sector unions, signing legislation that made Wisconsin a right-to-work state, meaning that unions could not force employees to join a union or to pay dues. That bill became law in March; it is the focus of Dan Kaufman’s article in The Times Magazine.

As the two magazine articles make clear, there was no pressing need for either law. At the time he proposed Act 10, Walker claimed that busting the public employees’ unions was necessary because Wisconsin was facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit, and that the deficit couldn’t be closed, as he told Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday,” “with the current collective bargaining laws in the state.”

But as Kettl points out, that was simply not true. Although there are plenty of states with woefully underfunded pensions, Wisconsin isn’t one of them. And while Walker claims to have saved the state $3 billion during his first term as a result of Act 10, he almost surely could have gotten the same givebacks by bargaining for them, as other states, such as Rhode Island, have done.

To put it another way, Walker busted the public employee unions not because he had to but because he could.

Similarly, there was no deep desire on the part of the business community to have Wisconsin become a right-to-work state, even though it would most likely bring about lower labor costs. Kaufman quotes a leader of the Wisconsin Contractors Coalition, who told him that “right-to-work is going to compromise my quality, my competitiveness.” That’s because the unions have long served to screen workers and keep them up to date on new technologies.

No, what motivated Walker, clearly, was politics. Unions, which have long been traditional Democratic allies, have been in steep decline — except for public employee unions, which now make up just under half of all union workers. By crippling them, Kettl told me, “Walker is trying to put a stake in the heart of a strong piece of Democratic support that has long been a thorn in the side of the Republicans.”

The fact that Wisconsin has historically been strongly pro-union — indeed, the largest public services employee union, AFSCME, was founded in Madison in 1932 — only makes Walker’s triumphs that much more impressive to his fellow Republicans. This is something Walker will undoubtedly highlight if he runs for president. As he put it in his 2013 book, “Unintimidated,” “If we can do it in Wisconsin, we can do it anywhere — even in our nation’s capital.”

As for the right-to-work law, Kaufman points out that Wisconsin’s law was “a virtual copy of a 1995 model bill promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council” — A.L.E.C. — whose conservative backers include Charles and David Koch.

The Koch brothers are staunchly anti-union, of course, and they have supported Walker in both of his gubernatorial races. Their oil baron father, in fact, was an early and enthusiastic supporter of right-to-work legislation, helping to get it passed in Kansas in 1958. They have said they will spend some $900 million on the 2016 elections. At an April fund-raiser, according to The Times, David Koch is reported to have said that Walker would be the Republican nominee. As Kaufman nicely puts it, passing Act 10 was his “audition” for potential big money backers like the Kochs.

Both articles conclude by pondering what Walker would do if he became president. But to read the two articles is to know the answer: If union-busting gets him to the White House, why would he stop there?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Life in America requires a lot of advance preparation. For instance, when you’re getting ready for a plane trip you imagine what you’ll do if a problem arises — flight delay, long lines at security. But I bet you haven’t considered the best way to react if the man in front of you on the airport escalator has a gun dangling from his shoulder.

That very thing happened recently in Atlanta, when a Georgia resident named Jim Cooley came strutting through the airport lobby with a loaded assault rifle.

Cooley — who was taping the whole encounter and posted it on YouTube — corrected the police officer who stopped him. (“It’s not an automatic! It’s a semi-automatic!”) Then he declined to respond when she asked if he had a permit. (“Am I being detained? … If you’re detaining me then I’m going to have to file a lawsuit.”) And, in the end, he walked away in triumph.

We’ve moved from the right to bear arms to the right to flaunt arms.

While the airport setting gives the incident a particular flair, this kind of thing has been happening quite a bit. In Michigan, the City of Grand Rapids has been in a legal battle with a man who took umbrage when police stopped him while he was walking down a residential street on a Sunday morning wearing camouflage, with a pistol strapped to his leg and singing “Hakuna Matata” from “The Lion King.”

Very few states have flat-out rules against openly carrying guns in public. It’s just something that never came up. “It’s not a practical thing to do,” said Laura Cutilletta of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. But it turns out that anyone with the legal right to carry a concealed weapon — which, in some states, doesn’t even require a permit — generally also has the legal right to walk into a McDonald’s with a gun sticking out of his waistband.

The open display of weaponry freaks out average citizens, especially the ones with children. It outrages police. At one point, even the National Rifle Association said the open carry demonstrations were “downright weird.” But the organization quickly backtracked, apologized, blamed the post on an errant staffer, and averred that “our job is not to criticize the lawful behavior of fellow gun owners.”

You’d think that lawmakers would move quickly to make it illegal, but with a few exceptions, there’s more enabling going on than anything else. After a Kalamazoo man walked into the public library’s summer reading party for children with a 9-millimeter gun strapped to his waist, worried officials asked the State Legislature to add libraries to a very small list of gun-free zones. The Legislature did nothing.

“Look, I got a gun!” yelled a man who walked into a park where kids were playing baseball in — yes! — Georgia. “There’s nothing you can do about it.” The police, who were summoned, determined he was absolutely right.

The Georgia State Legislature passed a law a few years back that made it legal for citizens to take their guns into the airport. At the time, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue was expressing concern about giving his wife the option of toting a pistol when she was “walking from one of those parking lots to pick up a grandchild or something like that.” He did not mention middle-age guys toting semiautomatic assault rifles past the check-in counter. But here we are.

In Texas, where open carry had been banned since the post-Civil War era, protesters staged demonstrations all around the state, toting their guns to family restaurants and storming the State Capitol, where they confronted one unsympathetic lawmaker in his office. In response, the Legislature enabled House members to install panic buttons in their offices, and then legalized open carry for Texans with gun permits.

Some commentators have attributed the whole open-carry phenomenon to white American men trying to work out their insecurities. We’ve got to stop blaming white men for everything. Really, they’ve contributed a lot to the country. Still, you can’t help but notice that there’s a certain demographic consistency to the people who are making a scene over their right to display arms.

It wasn’t always that way. California passed its first ban on open carry in the 1960s in response to the Black Panther Party. “The Legislature was debating an open-carry law when 30 Black Panthers showed up at the Statehouse with their guns,” said Adam Winkler, a professor of law at U.C.L.A. and the author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”

“The same day Gov. Ronald Reagan made a speech, saying there’s no reason why a law-abiding person should be carrying a gun on the street.”

Maybe the way to turn this debate around would bring new recruits into the gun rights movement. “If open-carry advocates today were Marxist-leaning black radicals,” said Winkler, “we might have a very different situation.”

Exactly.

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