Scott Walker, Andrew Cuomo and Labor Unions: Will Cuomo Follow the Walker Path?

Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin decided to take on public employees and dismantle collective bargaining. In spite of a maximum effort by public employee unions, endless demonstrations, rallies, sit-ins, a recall election and a run for re-election Walker defeated the unions and is now a frontrunner in the run for the Republican presidential designation.

Sen. Rand Paul won this weekend’s Washington Times/CPAC presidential preference straw poll for the third time, but the real battle was going on beneath him, with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker easily distancing himself from the rest of the field…

Candidates are strategic: polling, focus groups, funders, oppositional research, nothing happens by accident. Walker decided that the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue required stepping over the bodies of teachers and public employees, and, maybe, he’s right.

Cuomo is equally strategic, and cunning.

New York State, for decades, has been governed by “three men in a room,” the three power brokers, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and the Governor, traded this for that and agreed upon a budget; everyone got their “piece of the budget pie.”

Eliot Spitzer came into office with guns blazing; the “enemy” was the legislature, the same legislature that was needed to sign off on state budgets, needed to sign off on all legislation. Spitzer’s resignation in 2008, a prostitution scandal, with greeted with smiles by legislators, clearly schadenfreude. Lieutenant Governor Patterson assumed the gubernatorial role, and, although he had served for twenty years in the State Senate, and his father Basil served as an advisor to labor unions, Patterson followed the Spitzer path. I sat in the Assembly chamber as Patterson in his State of the State message attacked the Legislature and labor guests in the gallery. Patterson stood up to both houses, and instead of negotiating a last minute budget, used a new concept, executive orders, to fund the state on a month by month basis, bypassing the Legislature.

Gotham Gazette reports,

Governor David Paterson, with the help of good government groups and lawyers, used an untried executive authority to push through a spending plan to keep state government funded without the Legislature’s consent.

Scandal and bad press haunted Patterson and he didn’t run, Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General, ran, and was elected easily. NYSUT, the union representing the teachers in New York State decided not to make any endorsement. Would Cuomo follow the confrontational Spitzer-Patterson path, or, work with unions in a collaborative relationship? The union decided to wait and see.

Cuomo came out of the box swinging, threatening, and as aggressive as Spitzer, with more finesse.

A marriage equality law that was muscled through the Senate, highly controversial anti- gun legislation, a property tax cap, a teacher evaluation plan and continuing the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

A rising star in the Republican Party, Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino, was gaining momentum; the national polls pointed to Republican landslides. Cuomo had raised tens of millions while Astorino had trouble. Governor Christie, the New Jersey Governor and RNC chair decided not to fund the Astorino campaign and Cuomo snatched up millions from pro-charter school PACs depriving Astorino of the charter PAC dollars.

Not only did NYSUT not endorse Cuomo, locals around the state decided to endorse Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo’s opponent in the Democratic primary.

Cuomo defeated Teachout 2:1 in the primary and in spite of an enormous lead only ended up with 54% in the November general election. Teachers either voted for a third party candidate or stayed on the sidelines.

Cuomo not only wrote off teachers he decided to take the Scott Walker path, to vigorously challenge core union issues and threaten to use every political tool.

“I will not sign a budget that does not have an ethics plan as outlined in my proposal. Either pass my budget or shut down the government,” Cuomo said.

Legislators are angry that Cuomo is trying to weaken the body as a whole by using the tactic – they are also upset that he is not letting certain policies stand on their own merits.

Meanwhile, watchdogs like New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have both said the strategy is fiscally irresponsible.

Thanks to court rulings, “These kinds of policy choices can be asserted into emergency appropriation bills,” DiNapoli told Alan Chartock on The Capitol Connection on Thursday. “The Legislature holding up the budget is really not a smart strategy.” DiNapoli went on to tell Chartock: “New York arguably has the strongest executive compared to any governor in any state in the union”

NYSUT and their members are fighting back, tweets, demonstrations, trips to Albany, local rallies, TV ads, all trying to erode Cuomo’s public support. Cuomo is fighting back, a report, a misleading report , and demanding harsh interventions in 187 schools.

There is a crisis of failing schools in New York State. In fact, more than 109,000 students are currently enrolled in New York’s 178 failing schools.

• In New York City, more than 50,000 students are currently enrolled in 91 failing schools.

• 77 of New York’s schools have been failing for a decade, with more than 250,000 students passing through these schools while state government has done nothing.
• Statewide, more than 9 out of 10 students in failing schools are minority or poor.

What the report fails to mention is that in 2012 over 70% of students passed the state tests, in 2013 and 2014 only about 35% passed the exams

A. The kids got significantly dumber
B. Teachers forgot how to teach
C. The state gave a new Common Core exam, an exam for which both students and teachers were not prepared.

The governor is not a fool; he is both punishing teachers and tip-toeing down the Scott Walker path. Cuomo’s problem, his miscalculation; he is not running as a Republican.

If suddenly Hillary decides not to run Cuomo could easily jump into the race, or if the democratic candidate loses in 2016 Cuomo could start preparing for a 2020 run, all extremely speculative.

Could Cuomo, or any democrat candidate, expect to get the presidential democratic nomination as an anti-teacher, anti-labor candidate? Cuomo has carved out a niche on the democratic spectrum, a social liberal and an economic conservative; however, can a Scott Walker-like anti-labor policies resonate on the democratic side of the aisle?

Will Cuomo seek a face-saving resolution of his battle with teachers, or, does he go for the jugular?

The public and behind-the-scenes give and take may define Cuomo for the remainder of his political career, and, to be honest, the endgame is shrouded in the mists.

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