News & Events

Patrick attacks GOP on labor

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By Glen Johnson
Globe Staff / May 1, 2011

MILWAUKEE — Governor Deval Patrick waded into the national debate over labor rights last night, telling fellow Democrats in the union battleground state of Wisconsin that Republicans “have abandoned any sense of responsibility for our common future in order to win power at all costs.’’

Offering tidbits of the personal story outlined in the memoir he is now selling, as well as a preview of the pro-Obama speech he will deliver over the next year as a surrogate campaign for the president, Patrick was scalding as he mirrored President Obama in casting the 2012 election as one less about policy than values.

“Republicans say that if you just shrink government, cut spending, crush unions, and wait, all will be well,’’ Patrick told a sold-out audience of 400 at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s annual Founders Day Dinner. “Of course, they don’t actually believe a whole lot of this.’’

Building momentum, he added: “The same folks who say smaller government and less spending is the right way to go are the ones responsible in the Bush administration for the biggest run-up in the size of the federal government in history, and spending deficits out as far as the eye can see.

“The same folks who are attacking the principle of public sector collective bargaining today will make an exception if your union endorses them,’’ he said.

The latter comment referred to the political fight that paralyzed this state in February, when newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker pushed a bill proposing to eliminate union collective bargaining rights.

That prompted union opponents and Tea Party and other backers of the governor to clash at the state Capitol in Madison, triggering a national debate over how to cope with generous labor contracts amid the national recession and massive government spending cuts across the country.

The debate lingered as the 14 Democrats in the 33-member state Senate fled to neighboring Illinois to deny a quorum and prevent a vote on Walker’s bill. Ultimately, Walker modified the legislation and passed it with the 19-member GOP majority. A county judge has stayed the law.

The elections are expected on July 12.

In his speech, Patrick did not dwell on the controversy, but his remark about “an exception if your union endorses them’’ referred to an exemption in Walker’s law for public safety unions, many of which endorsed his election last November.

More broadly, Patrick criticized the national Republican Party as a whole. “The same folks who say religious fundamentalism is a danger abroad are busy promoting it right here at home.’’

“The same folks who say we can’t afford to invest in our infrastructure at home were building schools in the last administration in Iraq. The same folks who say government should stay out of private lives want to tell women whether to keep a pregnancy they want or don’t want, and whom you or I can marry.’’

He concluded: “Republicans have abandoned any sense of responsibility for our common future in order to win power at all costs. And when you call them out on it, all they do is turn to bullying and belittling.’’

The Republican National Committee brushed off the criticism.

“After 2 1/2 years under Obama, Americans understand that we will not be able to spend our way out of this economic crisis,’’ said RNC spokeswoman Kristen Kukowski. “While Democrats continue to defend a status quo that is hurting families at the pump and stifling job creation, Republicans such as (Wisconsin Representative) Paul Ryan are offering responsible solutions to put our nation back on its feet.’’

Patrick spoke as he faces his own labor controversy at home. Last week, the Massachusetts Democrat-controlled House passed a budget that would let municipal leaders set health insurance copayments and deductibles for government workers following a monthlong negotiation period with labor leaders.

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has projected that it would save $100 million in fiscal 2012.

The bill, passed late Tuesday, sparked labor protests at the State House not unlike those seen a 90-minute drive away from Milwaukee in Madison.

Patrick later applauded the “very important vote,’’ which mirrored his own bill pushing for lower municipal health care costs, but he refused to discuss its specifics.

Yet in opening his speech, he hit Wisconsin Democrats for suggesting he supports Walker’s stance on collective bargaining.

“As long as I am governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we will have no Wisconsin-type of law. It’s not happening on my watch. I am not, I am not going to let Massachusetts be a pawn in the national Republican effort to undermine collective bargaining and the right to organize.’’

Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, also issued a statement of support.

“With a state Senate and governor consistently on the record in favor of municipal health care relief and collective bargaining, we are confident that we will ultimately pass legislation that provides for municipal health care reform and insures that collective bargaining will remain strong for the working families of Massachusetts,’’ said Haynes.

Glen Johnson can be reached at

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.