States’ overreach also big in 2012

Apart from deciding how the power lines will form in Washington, 2012 holds interest at the state level, not least for the overreach we have seen in some places. Wisconsin’s upstart governor, an unrelenting advocate for the Tea Party brand, went hog-wild soon after assuming office in 2011 and rushed through union-busting legislation, the upshot of which has been a drive to have him recalled, the date of that vote expected to be sometime this year. Alabama’s governor bears the anti-immigrant law he championed as some red badge of courage, proudly proclaiming it the most ambitious in the country, besting the other states that have ventured into that uncharted territory. Almost certainly, the Supreme Court will have to weigh in on the legality of these daring moves, and depending on how swiftly the high court piece proceeds, we could see decision time there this year as well.

Governor Scott Walker wasted no time taking advantage of the Republican majorities in the two state legislative chambers to bring up his bill that ran a sharp knife through the collective bargaining privileges of Wisconsin’s public employee unions. Predictably, the legislation created a ruckus, but probably on a scale of more epic proportions than Walker or his Republican colleagues could have imagined. Wisconsin’s public employees and kindred spirits from well outside the state descended on Madison in huge boisterous demonstrations against this infringement on their hard-won worker rights. Adding to the drama, the Democratic members of the state senate bolted Wisconsin and had an extended hideout in Illinois, intending to prevent the bill’s passage.

What’s curious about the union-busting measure, eventually passed via some legislative sleight-of-hand, was that it exempted cops and firefighters from the rollback of bargaining principles that have long been the accepted modern-day workplace norm. Those exemptions clearly suggest that somewhere along the way folks understood that there was a foul odor to these maneuvers. Why, pray tell, would collective bargaining be reserved for cops and firemen but not for teachers?

So Walker is now busily trying to place as many impediments as he can in the path of those who are determined to oust him by the recall route – threatening to mount challenges to their petition gathering process, and all the rest. Meanwhile, he is also reportedly raising lots of cash to stay in office, whenever that battle is joined. No surprise, of course, that there’d be fat cats on the right more than willing to cough up big dollars for an anti-working man campaign.

Immigration became this big-time wedge issue for those who affirm conservative values, so this explosion of anti-immigrant sentiment that has popped up at legislative level is perhaps a natural consequence. What was probably not foreseen was that the flurry of activity would be emanating from state legislatures. There’s obviously been a resolve on the part of conservative state legislators and governors to brashly assume a place in the immigration discussion that has not traditionally been theirs and which many believe they have unlawfully usurped —that of being drafters of immigration policy. That comprehensive reform of immigration law has not been done in Washington is an understandable frustration, more so for states whose influx of undocumented immigrants saddles them with economic problems they claim to be unduly onerous. No way, though, does this rationalize making this preemptive strike in the immigration war.

When Arizona first headed down this path in 2010, with all the hullaballoo it created, chances are lots of folks would not have seen it as a pace setter. Roughly a year after Arizona’s governor signed their measure into law, and with a few other states having done similar dances in the interim, it was Alabama’s turn for its governor, Robert Bentley, to exult in his state’s version being the “toughest” of the lot. Bentley’s boast was predicated on the findings of a federal district judge in Alabama who, in ruling on a suit by the federal Justice Department against the law, let stand key parts of what the State of Alabama had put on its books, albeit also blocking some provisions. Giving law enforcement officers the authority to act as immigration agents, on suspicion of someone being undocumented, has been a cornerstone provision of those states taking a more draconian approach, and this got the judge’s okay in Alabama. Also cleared was the state being empowered to track the parents of elementary and high school kids to establish proof of their status.

With judges in several states responding to different drumbeats on immigration, it will inevitably be the high court’s call…hopefully to reaffirm once and for all, that immigration is the sole province of the federal government. Only the hopelessly naïve, however, would seriously indulge the fantasy that proper application of the law, absent ideological orientation, is how this immigration madness will come to be decided, even at Supreme Court level. Never mind a history of federal and state responsibilities divided pretty much along logical, common-sense lines, who would dare preclude a brand new take on immigration’s place in the federal design orchestrated by Chief Justice Roberts and his conservative brethren?

It’s a strange time we’re dealing with here. The move is definitely on to make extremism the new normal. One can only hope that there is at the center resiliency and sanity enough to repel a determined and fanatical foe.

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