David Brooks: Gov. Walker Excluded Wisconsin Cops and Firefighters for Political Reasons

New York Times columnist David Brooks published a truly must-read piece Tuesday about what's going on in Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, out of some odd desire to appear balanced, Brooks advanced the totally erroneous liberal meme that Governor Walker's budget repair plan exempted cops and firefighters because they typically support Republicans:

Getting state and federal budgets under control will take decades. It will require varied, multipronged approaches, supported by broad and shifting coalitions. It’s really important that we establish an unwritten austerity constitution: a set of practices that will help us cut effectively now and in the future.

The foundation of this unwritten constitution has to be this principle: make everybody hurt. The cuts have to be spread more or less equitably among as many groups as possible. There will never be public acceptance if large sectors of society are excluded. Governor Walker’s program fails that test. It spares traditional Republican groups (even cops and firefighters). It is thus as unsustainable as the current tide of red ink.

To be sure, I'm not surprised that shills like MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz are blatantly lying to their viewers about this issue. But you'd expect more from Brooks, especially since Politifact on Monday busted Democrat strategist Donna Brazile for making the same negligent mistake on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.

As NewsBusters previously reported:

Let's see what Politifact had to say about this very subject Monday:

During the campaign last November, leaders of the Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Association and Milwaukee Police Association appeared in an ad supporting Walker and blasting his opponent, Democrat Tom Barrett. Walker also won endorsements from the West Allis Professional Police Association and the Wisconsin Troopers Association

Walker didn’t get the endorsements of two statewide unions, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, which both backed Barrett.

For the record, the governor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the charge that he was exempting police and firefighters was "ridiculous." He said he didn't recommend changing the rules for police officers and firefighters because he didn’t want public safety work disrupted.

We then contacted the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the statewide union that endorsed Walker's opponent last year. Executive director Jim Palmer said the statewide organization is much larger than the local Milwaukee police union that endorsed Walker. The state group has approximately 11,000 members versus Milwaukee’s roughly 1,400, he said.

Similarly, the state firefighters association has more than 3,000, compared with the Milwaukee union’s 875.

In reality, if Brooks did a simple Google search, he would have found this information is all a few keystrokes away. For instance,"THE WPPA ENDORSES TOM BARRETT FOR GOVERNOR":

Surrounded by law enforcement officers at a May 12th [2010] event, Tom Barrett received the endorsement of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association in his race to become the state’s next governor. [...]

The WPPA represents over 11,000 active and retired members from over 375 locals statewide. With over 70 years of service to law enforcement personnel, the WPPA is recognized as the leading law enforcement association in Wisconsin.

Or how about "Wisconsin Professional Fire Fighters endorse Tom Barrett for governor."

Finally, on an even grander scale, "Barrett endorsed by National Association of Police Officers":

On behalf of the more than 240,000 men and women of law enforcement it represents, the National Association of Police Officers (NAPO) today endorsed Tom Barrett for Wisconsin governor in recognition of his long record of support for and public safety officials and issues.

“NAPO is pleased to support your campaign and is confident of your support of Wisconsin’s law enforcement community,” NAPO executive director William J. Johnson wrote in a letter to Tom.

NAPO is a coalition of police unions and associations from across the United States that serves to advance the interests of America’s law enforcement through legislative and legal advocacy, political action and education. Founded in 1978, NAPO now represents more than 1,000 police units and associations, 241,000 sworn law enforcement officers, 11,000 retired officers and more than 100,000 citizens who share a common dedication to fair and effective crime control and law enforcement.

So, cops and firefighters might traditionally be supportive of Republicans, but in the most recent election in Wisconsin, that wasn't that case.

As such, Brooks, much like the shills on MSNBC and Brazile, totally misrepresented this matter. But that wasn't the only area the Times supposed conservative contributor erred:

The debt problems before us are huge. Even in Wisconsin they cannot be addressed simply by taking on the public sector unions. Studies done in North Carolina and elsewhere suggest that collective bargaining only increases state worker salaries by about 5 percent or 6 percent. That’s not nearly enough to explain current deficits. There are many states without collective bargaining that still face gigantic debt crises.

Walker hasn't asked public employees to take a pay cut. He's instead asked them to contribute more to their health insurance and pension plans.

Moreover, the studies Brooks cited dealt with collective bargaining and salaries. Where's the data concerning how much collective bargaining has jacked up benefits costs to states? 

This would have been far more relevant since that's what Walker is trying to cut.

Moving forward, what's really sad about these glaring errors by Brooks is that prior to this point, he offered some views regarding Wisconsin that were spot on:

Walker’s critics are amusingly Orwellian. They liken the crowd in Madison to the ones in Tunisia and claim to be fighting for democracy. Whatever you might say about Walker, he and the Republican majorities in Wisconsin were elected, and they are doing exactly what they told voters they would do. It’s the Democratic minority that is thwarting the majority will by fleeing to Illinois. It’s the left that has suddenly embraced extralegal obstructionism. [...]

Everybody now seems to agree that Governor Walker was right to ask state workers to pay more for their benefits. Even if he gets everything he asks for, Wisconsin state workers would still be contributing less to their benefits than the average state worker nationwide and would be contributing far, far less than private sector workers.

Exactly. But there was more:

Even if you acknowledge the importance of unions in representing middle-class interests, there are strong arguments on Walker’s side. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, state-union relations are structurally out of whack.

That’s because public sector unions and private sector unions are very different creatures. Private sector unions push against the interests of shareholders and management; public sector unions push against the interests of taxpayers. Private sector union members know that their employers could go out of business, so they have an incentive to mitigate their demands; public sector union members work for state monopolies and have no such interest.

Tough to believe this was the same article. But there was even more:

Private sector unions confront managers who have an incentive to push back against their demands. Public sector unions face managers who have an incentive to give into them for the sake of their own survival. Most important, public sector unions help choose those they negotiate with. Through gigantic campaign contributions and overall clout, they have enormous influence over who gets elected to bargain with them, especially in state and local races.

As a result of these imbalanced incentive structures, states with public sector unions tend to run into fiscal crises. They tend to have workplaces where personnel decisions are made on the basis of seniority, not merit. There is little relationship between excellence and reward, which leads to resentment among taxpayers who don’t have that luxury.

And, since the taxpayers are the ones footing the bill for such luxury, this makes them even more resentful.

Add it all up, and this would have been a far better column if Brooks stuck to the facts rather than feeling the need to push liberal memes totally devoid of them.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.