Doyle's compromise was a short-term victory but a long-term loss.
It was painful to watch workers and their allies inMadison and Milwaukee get arrested Thursday while protesting for higher wages. I must admit, though, that Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) looked pretty badass as they put plastic cuffs on her. The arrests were also painful because it forced me to confront a difficult truth.
Public sector workers in Madison are making less because of Gov. Walker.
And private sector workers in Madison are making less because of Gov. Doyle.
History lesson time! Back in 2004, the Madison Common Council passed an ordinance raising the city's minimum wage. Madison became only the fourth municipality in the nation to make such a raise -- now, a decade later, cities across the country have or are raising their minimum wage.
This leadership should be a point of Madison hipster pride alongside Smart Studios and craft brewing -- we were raising the minimum wage before it was cool.
About a year later, Milwaukee also passed a minimum wage increase, and other Wisconsin cities including La Crosse were working towards the same goal.
In response, the Republican-run Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill to stop Madison's citywide raise. Then, as now, they think they can do a better job running Madison than the people who actually live there. Doyle vetoed that first bill. So Republicans started another push for this type of preemption bill, because this was a time before they had the Affordable Care Act and Common Core to obsessively vote on over and over again.
Instead of vetoing it a second time, the governor worked out a compromise. Doyle and the Legislature agreed on a bill that would stop Wisconsin municipalities from raising their wages in the future, but also offered a one-time raise of the state's minimum wage.
Doyle got the Republicans to raise the minimum wage. At the time, young Alan was excited about that. Our actions in Madison created change that improved lives for people all over the state.
Austin King was pissed. He was the then-Madison alder who had spearheaded Madison's own minimum wage increase. King fought this joint bill hard, and tried to get then-Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager to prosecute Doyle and the legislators for illegal collusion.
Back then, I thought King was whining, an extremist who was unwilling to accept a compromise. But now I see that he was right.
Doyle's compromise was a short-term victory but a long-term loss. Congress ended up passing a national minimum wage increase in 2007 that made Wisconsin's increase meaningless. Meanwhile, the state's residents lost a powerful tool. The whole concept of "laboratories of democracy" is based upon the notion that successful local policy begets state policy that then shapes national policy.
Compromise is important -- some of the best legislation in our nation's history is based upon compromises. But a compromise that exchanges local control for a win in a given year's election cycle is a bad deal.
The communities and states that are raising their minimum wage aren't all hippie islands -- several of them include few to no drum circles at all! Our neighbors in Minnesota and Michigan have raised their minimum wage, while our workers continue to fall further behind.
Over the last two sessions, Gov. Walker and the legislative Republicans would have probably taken away local rights to raise the minimum wage anyway, just like they did with the multiple bills that slashed local tenants' rights. But at least that could have been a rallying cry to mobilize voters. Instead, years ago, Doyle and a number of legislative Democrats did the Republicans' work for them.
But, hey! Dane County, along with some other counties, will have an advisory referendum on the ballot in the fall. Those ceremonial votes really influence policy -- that's why marijuana is now legal in Wisconsin and non-partisan redistricting has been adopted statewide. But seriously, those referendums are toothless get-out-the-vote efforts and a power substitute for a power we used to have.
If Mary Burke is elected governor in the fall, she'll have to make a number of compromises with an Assembly that will assuredly stay under Republican control. I hope Burke learns a lesson from this bit of Wisconsin history -- surrendering local governance is a bigger loss than almost any short-term policy victory.