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Right to work déjà vu?

This week, Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker is likely to become the third Midwest governor in as many years to sign legislation making his state right to work, the 25th in the country.

It was not that long ago that the right to work movement was essentially stalled. In 2011, no state had gone right to work in a decade.

Then along came Indiana’s Republican Governor Mitch Daniels.

Early on, Daniels said he wasn’t interested in right to work. It was too controversial and divisive.

But, and maybe this sounds familiar to some Michiganders, Daniels then changed his mind and signed the measure into law.

It’s all been done before

This was not long after Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich got his knuckles rapped by voters who rejected his effort to gut public employee collective bargaining.

But Daniels showed it could be done.

Now, maybe this isn’t the ultimate acid test. Indiana is a reliably red state. Certainly Democrats have won there, but they’ve typically been conservative ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats.

Indiana has gone blue just twice in the last 50 years in presidential races. And, it’s important to remember, Daniels did not face the ultimate political test of having to run for re-election after signing the measure.

It's not on my agenda, Governor Rick Snyder

Next up was Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker. He went after public employees’ – not private employee – bargaining rights in 2011. Walked faced – and survived – a recall election. Three Republican state senators however, were not that lucky.

But, Walker showed it was possible for a Republican governor in a blue-leaning, blue collar state to confront labor head on and live, politically-speaking, to tell the tale.

Closer to home

Meantime, here in Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder spent the first half of his first term saying, “right to work is not on my agenda.”

That was, of course, until December 2012 when that become, “when it arrives on my desk, I plan on signing it.”

Along with signing the legislation, it also came with a comprehensive follow-up plan to protect politicians who supported right to work, making recalls tougher and providing political and financial support for re-election campaigns.

The latter might have been for naught, however, as right to work was barely an issue in the 2014 elections that Republicans won in a rout.

What next?

All of this brings us to present day Wisconsin, where Governor Walker is about to take right to work full circle.

So, following a pattern set by other Midwest Republican Governors, after insisting that a right to work law that also covers the private sector would be distracting, divisive and unnecessary, Walker is now prepared to sign it.

Our question: Are you watching, Ohio?

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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