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The Effects of Madison Madness

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MADISON, WI - MARCH 10: Protestors look up toward the Wisconsin assembly chamber on March 10, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Thousands of demonstrators continue to protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol as the Wisconsin House voted to pass the state's controversial budget bill one day after Wisconsin Republican Senators voted to curb collective bargaining rights for public union workers in a surprise vote with no Democrats present. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

MADISON, WI – MARCH 10: Protestors look up toward the Wisconsin assembly chamber on March 10, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Thousands of demonstrators continue to protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol as the Wisconsin House voted to pass the state’s controversial budget bill one day after Wisconsin Republican Senators voted to curb collective bargaining rights for public union workers in a surprise vote with no Democrats present. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Written by Dominic DezzuttiUsually, March Madness refers to my favorite time of year, that of course being the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. However, this year, people from both sides of the political aisle are happy to give that deserving moniker to what’s happening in Madison, Wisconsin.

There has already been a lot of coverage and analysis about what happened, from the constitutional maneuvering to the vociferous protests. But what isn’t entirely yet clear is what effect this situation will have on politics outside of Madison.

A True Test of Unions Mettle
Unions, both public and private, have enjoyed happier and stronger times in American history than right now. The moves made in Madison were a direct answer to the political firepower that unions were more than happy to focus on Republicans in the last ten years. Now that they have been punched in the mouth, after laying more than their fair share of haymakers in the last few years, unions and their relevance will be tested.

The events in Madison should serve as a rallying cry for unions and their supporters, but the details of the events might actually expose some of their weaknesses as well.

What I mean is that the average American is likely a fence sitter in this debate, probably not terribly excited for one side or the other. But while making the case that unions were attacked by the Wisconsin governor is easy to make, so is the case that public unions enjoy far greater benefits than most private sector employees and many of those same private sector employees may not care that some of those great benefits are being taken away. Unions should be careful not to assume that everyone cares that some of their members now have to pay into their own pensions. Most everyone in the private sector already does.

Constitutional Maneuvering: The Manual
While every state constitution is different, the moves that the Senate Republicans made in Madison to go ahead and vote without the Senate Democrats in the state was a model that may be copied in other states, if their minority party heads for the hills. I can guarantee you that this move has led to every Governor and every minority party leader across the nation to get their own experts to see if this is possible in their state. Leaving the premises of the legislature as a filibuster in abstentia is not a new move, but if this solution exists in other states, the use of the absent filibuster may decrease dramatically.

Will Union Solidarity become a new Tea Party?
Thanks to the events in Madison, unions throughout the country will be more motivated than ever to come together to defeat Republicans wherever and however they can. But that energy will be dangerous and hard to keep contained. Frankly, this may create a liberal Tea Party movement. The original Tea Party both bolstered and threatened forces within the Republican Party, and a new union version could do the same for Democrats.

I realize the dynamics would be very different, but the affects could be similar. A motivated organized labor movement will not accept Democratic candidates being wishy-washy about union concerns. They won’t be looking for a party to simply do no harm. They will be looking to see their interests bolstered and if the current candidates running are not willing to commit to those interests, they will be more than happy to find candidates who will.

People on both sides of the aisle have said that the events in Madison will have affects in American politics for years to come. While there is a bit of hyperbole in some of those statements, I do agree that politics will certainly be affected.

Don’t worry if you don’t think you’ll remember these days. You’ll be reminded of them in an election not too far away.

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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