John Nichols: Vets group is right: National Guard should not be used to bully political foes and bust unions

John Nichols: Vets group is right: National Guard should not be used to bully political foes and bust unions

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When Gov. Walker announced his plan to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights -- as well as, in effect, to cut their pay -- he let slip that he had alerted the National Guard to help him implement the scheme.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz poked back at the governor’s statement, musing: “Here’s one reliable test of good public policy: You don’t have to call out the National Guard when you propose it.”

The absurdity of alerting the National Guard before a proposal -- even an unpopular and potentially illegal one -- has even been debated highlights the extent to which Walker has gone off the deep end.

“About 700 people packed into the cafeteria of Middleton High School on Sunday evening for a listening session organized by state Sen. Jon Erpenbach. For two hours several state legislators and I listened as dozens of public employees, many of them teachers, talked about what Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to end 40 years of collective bargaining meant to them and to their families,” noted Cieslewicz. “Much of the testimony was passionate, but most of it was respectful. I have no reason to believe that the governor’s fear that his proposal would prompt actions requiring a Guard deployment is justified. Nonetheless, workers and their families are justifiably upset that the governor is trying to accomplish through sheer force what might otherwise be achieved through negotiations at the bargaining table.”

Teachers and other public employees are not the only ones who are upset about the governor’s talk of using the National Guard to promote an extreme political move.

Vote Vets, the 100,000-strong organization of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their supporters, issued a statement Monday in which the group objected to Walker’s inappropriate threat to activate the National Guard.

“Maybe the new governor doesn’t understand yet -- but the National Guard is not his own personal intimidation force to be mobilized to quash political dissent,” said Robin Eckstein, a former Wisconsin National Guard member and Iraq war veteran who lives in Wisconsin and has been active with Vote Vets. “The Guard is to be used in case of true emergencies and disasters, to help the people of Wisconsin, not to bully political opponents. Considering many veterans and Guard members are union members, it’s even more inappropriate to use the Guard in this way. This is a very dangerous line the governor is about to cross.”

The message from Vote Vets is an important one.

National Guard units serve critical domestic and international roles. Decisions about deploying them must always be weighed with care, as it is essential to avoid disruptions of the personal lives of citizen soldiers -- and to make sure that units are not overstretched.

But it is dramatically more important to ensure that the integrity of the National Guard is maintained.

That cannot be done when, as Eckstein notes, a governor proposes use the Guard not for necessary duty but to bully political opponents.

John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times.


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