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The Madison Effect

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MADISON, WI - FEBRUARY 24: Protestors demonstrate in the rotunda of the state capitol on February 24, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Protestors have occupied the buildingl for the past 10 days protesting the governor's attempt to push through a bill that would restrict collective bargaining for most government workers. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

MADISON, WI – FEBRUARY 24: Protestors demonstrate in the rotunda of the state capitol on February 24, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Protestors have occupied the buildingl for the past 10 days protesting the governor’s attempt to push through a bill that would restrict collective bargaining for most government workers. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Over the last few days, our TV airwaves have been covered with scenes of hundreds of protesters, embattled, stubborn leaders and a world wondering if these protests will mean a domino effect across the region.

We’ve also seen stories about Libya.

Of course, the protests and leaders I am speaking of hail from Madison, Wisconsin, not North Africa. And while thankfully there has been little violence, just as many people are worried about a domino effect from what’s happening in Wisconsin.

If you’ve been distracted by the other side of the globe, here’s the quick recap.

The Republican State Senate and Republican Governor in Wisconsin are trying to pass a major piece of legislation that would take away the collective bargaining rights of most of the unionized state employees of Wisconsin, among other benefits cuts, in order to balance the state budget.

Since this particular piece of legislation can’t be passed without a quorum in the Senate, the Wisconsin State Senate Democrats have left the state in order to avoid a quorum, pulling off an absentee filibuster of sorts.

Basically, this is lining up as a battle over the perceived effect of State Employee Unions and their benefits have on State Budgets.

I’m not taking a side in the battle, whether it’s in Wisconsin or a potentially brewing situation here in Colorado. I can see points on both sides. To me, to argue about benefits and collective bargaining is truly missing the point.

For me, this is the fight that the last seven years of fiercely fought election cycles have brought to bear. Unions have always been a competitive force against Republicans in elections. But since 2004, unions have unified with other Democratic groups and become a much more competitive opponent for Republicans.

Frankly, Republicans in Colorado and elsewhere have been getting their clocks cleaned by the organization and person power of unions, combined with the energy of other Democratic political forces over the last few elections cycles. Really, only 2010 gave the GOP anything to cheer about in state governments.

So, it’s only logical that when Republicans finally get back into power that they use it to do whatever they can to take away any advantage unions have in their state. This isn’t complicated political theory. Unions picked a fight, they began winning the fight, and now Republicans are fighting back, at least in Wisconsin.

Fortunately for unions across the country, Republicans do not hold complete control of many state governments. They certainly made large gains in 2010, but these battles to cripple state employee unions shouldn’t be terribly common throughout the nation this year.

However, if the GOP leaders in Madison succeed in at least landing a few body blows in this fight, Republicans in other states will rally around a strategy they can use, if they can attain significant state government majorities.

It won’t be as easy as simply photocopying a master plan, but a victory in Madison will inspire Republicans everywhere who haven’t found a way to crack the union nut in recent elections.

Politics can be a weird fight. Very seldom can you completely eliminate your opponent, at the party versus party level. You can inflict a lot of damage, and even sustain a long winning streak. But if the fight goes on long enough, and it always does, your opponent will usually find a way to strike back.

When they do, you better be ready to fight back, or in this case, you better be ready to hide out in Illinois.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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