In The News
GOP, Grothman split pants in takeover of MATC
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted March 9, 2012
One of the applaudable traditional tenets of the Republican Party has been local control, that people who pay for and use public services should have major voice in how those services are operated and dispensed.
A sadder more recent tenet is hatred of unions, focused on the chamber of commerce canard that seeking better pay and benefits is anti-business, that standing up for workers holds down rewards at the top. Amazingly the right wing has gotten away with labeling the unions as the greedy bastards because some of their dues fight the wealthy’s billions in influence.
So what happens in Wisconsin when the Republican majority puts those two ideological trouser legs in conflict? Of course! “Punish unions” trumps the principle of local control.
That in a nutshell explains the secret maneuvers to force Senate Bill 275 on Milwaukee. This is the takeover by corporate toadies of the successful Milwaukee Area Technical College by controlling the diverse representation of its board through imposing an appointment overseer of four elected politicians, 50% from Ozaukee and Washington counties.
These counties whose leaders are influenced and controlled by the Republican business class send only 6% of the students yet want half the control – and could gain more if they can get to the Milwaukee county executive and the unknown next chair of the county board.
In sad economic times and even though focused on working class skills and trades education from nurses to culinary chefs, MATC maintains a remarkably high graduation and employment rate – and it draws 84% of its money and 90% of its students from Milwaukee County!
“Milwaukee taxpayers should be outraged at this blatant power grab,” noted Milwaukee Supervisor Gerry Broderick. But do Madison politicians understand that destroying real local control is as destructive as shipping jobs to Asia?
Apparently not. This bill has moved rapidly through the legislature in familiar GOP secrecy; without public hearing and limited community input, accompanied by press releases that simply lie about the reasons for the takeover and disguise MATC’s acclaimed skills program, manufacturing licensing certification and other nationally recognized innovations.
Yes, the current formula for electing a nine member MATC board is complicated, involving community input and more than 20 area school board directors who must divide representation among employers, employees and community. It’s messy to explain to the public – and apparently the mainstream press -- but board member and former UAW worker Fred Royal points out what’s not complicated: Results. “For every $1 invested in MATC, we return $6 to the local economy,” he noted, also emphasizing how hundreds of business leaders already serve as official MATC policy advisers.
MATC has diverse local input from all levels, an A11 bond rating higher than the state’s downgraded one, a record of putting student needs first and keeping grads in the community, a newly active president and a faculty world-renowned, well paid and unionized – aha! So that’s the rub!
Criticism now surrounds this bill even from some quarters that first backed it. Community outrage is also growing, led by a massive public protest at the college February 29, fed by the outraged and largely mystified faculty from Local 212, American Federation of Teachers, who had given up raises over two years just to help the college’s finances. The teachers defend their pay levels because of their prestige, experience and results. (Aha again! How dare they be proud of what they do?)
The stated conservative concern is that the board’s makeup is too supportive of the unionized workers – another aha! – and not responsive enough to the demands of the business community. Translation: The leadership isn’t working hard enough to beat the faculty down in wages and prepare graduates to more obediently accept whatever a company gives them. There’s just not enough deference at MATC to the big bosses.
That push to make the board behave as business wants seemed to be led by the political arm of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, but recently they seemed to backtrack a bit under hard questioning about the active manufacturing rep on the MATC board, which also has a rep from Manpower and several skilled workers with manufacturing backgrounds.
It turns out on that some of the companies complaining about business input ducked pleas from the MMAC to apply for the board over the years or in a few cases failed to win election, which raises the issue of sour grapes. MATC’s welding program has been attacked, as one example, but it is actually state of the art and has open slots because of how corporations have dumped experienced welders at every sign of economic downturn (hardly an incentive for young people to choose the career).
So it could be that the disgruntled companies are actually demanding that MATC provide a huge pool of welders to choose from for their own transient special machinery in order to keep wages down and selectivity high.
To want MATC to collude in that attitude is sort of like expecting Marquette University to produce lawyers who don’t just pass the bar but learn how to litigate without pay the unique credit default swap your company got sucked into.
How modern manufacturing works is something MATC does understand but the media hasn’t intelligently explored. If companies put financial support behind the MATC’s innovative programs and sophisticated ideas, rather than seeking to create their own plantation, they could readily influence a rapid-response educational system.
Instead, the bill guts local control, professional evaluation and quality standards. What could possibly be behind such efforts?
You have to look no shallower than Ozaukee County’s Glenn Grothman, the assistant state senate majority leader who has made his bones as bedpan carrier for Scott Walker’s policies, serving as the leading voice for shutting down the Capitol, slashing $1.6 billion in direct money and controls from education funding and cutting corporate taxes to win multiple awards from conservative business groups.
Grothman just introduced a bill to make being a single parent a contributing criminal factor in determining child abuse (no kidding!). But he himself is the single parent of democratic abuse by authoring the MATC bill and pushing it along. Most single parents he detests are from what Grothman would call the lesser sex, but the comparison still holds. Because this Limbaugh of the state legislature has long sought to wrap his sticky fingers around MATC as the technical college that most represents the progressive and union community and whose teachers have played a dynamic role in political opposition to Republican over-reach.
Grothman serves as frequent GOP spokesman because he can keep his cool on camera while absorbing deserved insults and makes questioners feel like they have stepped into a Mr. Belvedere movie. He openly hates social progress and longs for a return to those 1950s.
What better feather than to cripple MATC for a guy who prides him on educational insight? And such insight! He opposes 4 year old kindergarten, SAGE, union teachers. He takes the lead in defending Walker’s slashes to public education and has enlivened tea party events in online video with speeches demeaning women. Oh, he loves women . . . in their place. But he believes they are taking jobs from men (just the guy to have a larger voice in tech college policy) and shouldn’t earn like men because they leave to do disgusting things like having children.
Females forced to testify before him in Senate hearings describe feeling groped as he always calls them “gals” or “those gals” and seems dismissive of whatever they have to say. Women legislators admit they have difficulty staying civil. While his view of single parents has infuriated the nation, his role in the attack on MATC has not been as publicized.
March 20 Update: Coteries of local control advocates in both parties slowed the bill until a final marathon session where Grothman bought pizza to rally his troops, agreed to delay the takeover and protect the TV stations, and thus forced final passage.
But even now second thoughts are circling from even those who don’t like or understand the current board selection, which is clearly too intricate for their thinking process. Local control just keeps getting in the way of those rampant fascist tendencies.