The New Hampshire Union Leader first published this column on October 26, 2012:
“Men must either be caressed or else annihilated. They will revenge themselves for small injuries, but cannot do so for great ones. The injury therefore that we do to a man must be such that we need not fear his vengeance.”
— The Prince
If Niccolo Machiavelli were alive today, his business card would read “political consultant” and this would be his busy season. With a mercenary’s inhibition, he would urge clients not to hesitate about going negative with killer attack ads and lethal direct mail. If you pick a fight with your opponent, you must win it by all means, he would counsel.
Like everyone in politics today, Macchiavelli would inevitably find himself working either for or against organized labor. Across the country the Democratic Party and government labor unions have formed an unholy alliance, the Big Government coalition, exchanging votes at election time for votes supporting higher taxes in state houses and city halls. In New Hampshire that coalition is going all-out to elect Maggie Hassan as governor.
The Great Recession has cost millions of private sector jobs, but relatively few government ones. It also produced lagging tax revenue shortfalls that are finally pressuring unionized government jobs. Big fights occurred in Wisconsin and New Jersey between those who enjoy the job security, high pay and generous benefits of government jobs and the rest of us who pay for them. Even liberal states such as Rhode Island and Massachusetts renegotiated benefits and modernized pension plans for public employees.
What kicked the beehive in New Hampshire was the long and drawn-out fight over becoming the only northeastern right-to-work state, which supporters believe would expand New Hampshire’s competitive advantage. Despite a three-to-one majority, legislative Republicans failed to overcome Gov. John Lynch’s veto.
Machiavelli predicted what would happen next. Nicked but hardly annihilated by the right-to-work fight, labor is fighting back. Preserving a gubernatorial veto and keeping the tax dollars flowing to unions requires electing Hassan and doing great injury to Republican gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne.
The Democratic Governors Association has spent more than $2 million against Lamontagne. The tax dollar-dependent Service Employees International Union (headquarters: Washington, D.C.) has spent $860,000 in independent expenditures against Lamontagne so far. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (headquarters: Washington, D.C.) chipped in $750,000 against Lamontagne. The National Education Association (headquarters: Washington, D.C.) has spent $560,000 against Lamontagne. The firefighters union and the state troopers union are supporting Hassan as well, motivated more by protecting pensions than public safety.
Special-interest abortion-rights groups Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood have put several hundred thousand more in the pot. Put it all together and the Big Government coalition is up to around $5 million against Lamontagne in six weeks with more to come in the final 10 days of the campaign.
To put that in perspective, Hassan has raised $1.6 million for her entire campaign. The Big Government coalition has spent more than $12 against Lamontagne for every $1 Hassan has spent on her own behalf in the general election. The unions have propped her up and kept her in the game.
The Republican Governors Association has returned fire, spending $5.8 million defending Lamontagne since the primary. Lamontagne has raised more than $1.5 million for his own campaign, a new record for a New Hampshire Republican. But the right has no groups as self-interested as unions when it comes to the size of government and the taxes needed to feed it.
Taxpayers can be hard to organize and, frugal folks as they are, they hate paying dues to advocacy groups. Ever seen a well-funded local taxpayers association? They don’t exist. Meanwhile, dues money is withheld from union members’ paychecks whether they support the union’s political agenda or not.
Machiavelli saw all this coming. “It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who gain by the new ones,” he wrote some 500 years ago.
Which is why labor unions are going after Lamontagne so hard.
Fergus Cullen, a freelance columnist, is a former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party and a Lamontagne supporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.