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Wis. recall outcome emboldens Minn. Republicans on union issues

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Scott Walker
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker reacts at his victory party Tuesday, June 5, 2012, in Waukesha, Wis. Walker defeated Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in a special recall election.
AP Photo/Morry Gash

One of the big questions of Minnesota's 2012 legislative session was whether the Republican majority in the Legislature would ask voters to decide whether unions could require all workers to belong to a union and pay dues.

Lawmakers never voted on the question, in large part due to concerns that the state's labor unions would spend millions to defeat the proposal and those who helped put it on the ballot. But supporters of the so-called "Right to Work" amendment say Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's victory in Tuesday's recall election should give them the courage to follow through with the plans.

"If you say you're going to do something and you stick to it and do it and it works, you will be rewarded in politics," State Sen.  Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said of Walker's victory.

Organized labor targeted Walker after he pushed through a plan that stripped collective bargaining rights from many public employees. Walker survived the recall vote, defeating his Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, by several percentage points.

Walker's victory could have ramifications for Minnesota. Thompson, one of the biggest backers of the Right to Work Amendment, said Republicans should follow through with that proposal and other efforts that would dramatically cut state spending.

"My belief is that had we done the same thing that Scott Walker did and stood up to the clamoring in the halls of the Capitol and put that on the ballot this fall, not only would we have survived it, but we would have been rewarded for it," Thompson said. "And it would have passed."

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he also is emboldened by Walker's victory. He said Republicans will continue to oppose tax increases, and he suggested public employees will be targeted if Republicans retain control of the Legislature this fall.

Continued budget talks
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, is pictured at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, July 5, 2011. "If you say you're going to do something and you stick to it and do it and it works, you will be rewarded in politics," State Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, he said Wednesday of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's victory.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"As far as public sector unions — whether it's state workers or teachers unions —  they should not have a different set of standards that are above and beyond the taxpayers that are actually funding their salaries and funding their benefits," Zellers said. "The days of a gold-plated government versus what an average Minnesotan gets paid, I think, are gone."

But several public employee union leaders say Republicans are reading the wrong message from the Wisconsin elections.

Jim Monroe, president of the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees said Minnesota is not Wisconsin. He said the recall election in Wisconsin was largely about Walker and his opponent.

"Wisconsin is a unique situation, just like any intense election like that is, and the far right is reading way too much into the results," Monroe said. "They've been looking for an issue and I guess the voters of Wisconsin gave them one."

Monroe and other union leaders say they'll work to elect candidates who support union rights.   

Gov. Mark Dayton said the results in Wisconsin show that the state is closely divided, much like Minnesota. But he said it's hard to read too much into the results because the campaign in Wisconsin was a referendum on Walker.

Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers
Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Monday, May 7, 2012. Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he also is emboldened by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's victory.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"A recall is just that," Dayton said. "You're voting for or against that person continuing in office. There are similarities with issues given his actions and what Republicans have proposed in Minnesota, but I don't know how to apply what happened yesterday to Minnesota in November."

Some other union leaders insist that the Wisconsin outcome has energized their members to work to ensure that the changes Walker made there do not happen in Minnesota. The election in November will be a key test of that theory, because control of the Legislature is up for grabs.