A tale of three Wisconsin Democrats on economic messaging

Most, if not all, Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Legislature are opposed to so-called “right-to-work” legislation that allows non-union members to benefit from union contracts without paying union dues, but, when it comes to conveying their opposition to right-to-work legislation that Republicans intend to propose in Wisconsin sometime after the new state legislature is sworn in, some Democrats are using different messaging than others.

Peter Barca, the Minority Leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Kenosha, is mostly railing against political polarization in his opposition to right-to-work legislation:

After (Republican State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald) indicated the Senate would move quickly on right-to-work, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca called on Gov. Scott Walker to bring discussions to a halt.

Barca, a Kenosha Democrat whose district includes a portion of Racine County, said the issue would be too polarizing when the parties should focus on working together.

“I call on Gov. Walker to put the brakes on this divisive issue that clearly will damage Wisconsin’s middle class,” Barca said in a statement. “As the governor himself previously indicated, this would be an extremely polarizing policy at a time when we should be working together to improve Wisconsin’s economy.”

Jennifer Shilling, the Minority Leader-designate of the Wisconsin State Senate from La Crosse, is trying to play the “Republicans in disarray” card in her opposition to right-to-work legislation:

Both Barca and Shilling are using the wrong kind of messaging when it comes to opposing so-called “right-to-work” legislation, since they’re mostly talking about things like political polarization and division (or perceived division) within the Republican Party of Wisconsin and not talking about how terrible the legislation would be for Wisconsin. In fact, I’ve seen far too many Democrats try to duck certain economic issues entirely in their messaging.

One state legislator in Wisconsin who is using messaging that actually attacks right-to-work legislation is Melissa Sargent, a very progressive Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Madison. Earlier this month, Sargent slammed right-to-work legislation by calling it “wage theft” legislation and referred to consumers, who, by spending money on goods and services, are responsible for the vast majority of economic activity in this country, as “profit creators”:

By referring to so-called “right-to-work” legislation as “wage theft”, Sargent is criticizing right-to-work legislation itself for what it really is: a right-wing plot to drive down the wages and benefits of workers. By referring to consumers as “profit creators”, Sargent is emphasizing that, when workers earn money at their jobs, they stimulate the economy by spending it on groceries, gasoline, and other goods and services. Sargent is using the recommended messaging of the Forward Institute, a Wisconsin-based progressive think tank led by, among others, Scott Wittkopf and Julie Wells, when it comes to opposing right-to-work legislation, and Sargent is the only Democratic state legislator in Wisconsin that I know of who has used at least some of the Forward Institute’s economic messaging.

There are both right ways and wrong ways to oppose right-to-work legislation, which is the moral equivalent of legalizing shoplifting because it allows non-union workers at any given workplace to benefit from the wages, benefits, etc. negotiated by a labor union without paying for the wages, benefits, and so on in the form of union dues.

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