Opinion

Did White House ambitions move Walker into the 'right to work' camp?

Walker flips on "right to work," signs anti-union measure

Three years ago, as he was destroying public employee unions in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker said he had no intention of going after private-sector unions.

“It’s not going to get to my desk,” Walker said then of "right to work" legislation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure it isn’t there because my focal point [is] private sector unions have overwhelmingly come to the table to be my partner in economic development.”

Well, just such a bill got to Walker’s desk today. What did Walker do? He signed it, making Wisconsin the 25th state to adopt laws under which workers covered by union contracts no longer have to pay dues or their equivalent to support the financial costs associated with collective bargaining. (In labor circles, it’s known as a “right to freeload" law, since the dues underwrite costs that set wage and benefits levels.)

So what’s changed in the three years since Walker’s pledge to support private-sector labor unions?

Presidential ambitions.

Shortly after signing the measure, Walker emailed supporters through his "Moving Wisconsin Forward" website, bragging about it.

"Moments ago I signed historic landmark legislation making Wisconsin a 'Right to Work' state," the email reads. "This will have an immediate positive effect on our economy ... attracting new businesses and industries, generating jobs, and sparking economic growth."

He goes on to say that "the attacks from the Big Government Labor Bosses and National Democrats will be worse than ever and your Friends of Scott Walker contribution of $10 or $100 or $1,000 or whatever amount is right for you couldn't come at a better time than now."

Why would the governor of Wisconsin care what "National Democrats" might think and do? Because he'd really like to be President Walker come 2017, and to get there he needs to solidify support among conservatives in key Republican primary and caucus states. That also could help explain his incendiary response the other day when he compared pro-labor protesters in Wisconsin to Islamic State terrorists.

And it adds some context to his other recent flipped position on whether immigration reform should include a path to citizenship. He used to support it. Conservatives tend to oppose it, so now Walker opposes it, too.

How presidential.

Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.

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