Analysis: Will issue 2 momentum sweep the Midwest?

November 9, 2011

By Micki Maynard

"At a certain point, you can’t tell if you’ve created the momentum, or the momentum has created you" 
— Annie Lennox

There’s no doubt that the Midwest was swept this past year with political momentum. It deposited Republican governors into office in Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio, and in turn, buoyed successful efforts to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

But with the resounding defeat of Ohio’s Issue 2 on Tuesday night, it appears that momentum has been slowed, if not stopped. And now, like a tide rushing out, governors across the Midwest have to consider whether the momentum that led to swift changes will now work against them.

Those with the most to worry about include Republican governors John Kasich in Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, and the situation also could affect other politicians across the region, both Republican and Democrat.

To be sure, there are big differences in Midwest states and cities, and the situations that they face.

In Ohio and Wisconsin, nothing short of a political revolution took place. Those two governors were bold in their attacks on public employee unions, using budget crises as an excuse, pushing measures through their respective legislatures before union members had a chance to figure out what hit them.

Despite high-profile protests in both places, especially Madison, Wis., the governors’ momentum carried the day.

In Michigan and Indiana, Republican governors have been more cautious. Both Snyder and Daniels have said they aren’t in favor of right-to-work efforts, even though Republicans in both states have called for them.

Daniels took action years ago against state employees, well out of a national spotlight. And Snyder has been judicious in dealing with collective bargaining rights. His one test of the vortex has been to give emergency managers the right to abrogate parts of union contracts in the state’s most deeply troubled cities.

One Democrat who has braved union members’ wrath is Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Throughout his campaign and in his early months as mayor, Emanuel made a longer school day his stop priority. He went around the city’s teacher’s union and offered incentives directly to city schools, including raises for teachers if they’d work longer hours.

Thirteen schools took him up on it, but the vast majority of schools steadfastly refused, setting up what promised to be a long and nasty confrontation with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Last week, Emanuel blinked in the face of a legal challenge by the union, and dropped his diversionary measure. The two sides agreed to collaborate on a compromise, rather than butt heads.

Perhaps Emanuel, schooled by Richard Daley and with two stints in the White House under his belt, saw what Kasich in Ohio failed to recognize and what must now concern Wisconsin’s Walker, who faces a recall movement in 2012.

Momentum, after all, is defined as “the impetus gained by a moving object.” And when political momentum goes against you, it could be best to just jump out of the way.

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