Meet Tina Weiss, head of the Chamber of Commerce of Muskego, Wisconsin, a Milwaukee suburb in highly conservative Waukesha County. One of the Chamber’s core functions is, of course, to foster a pro-business environment; indeed, the top of its homepage reads: “Mission: Creating prosperity and a vibrant community.”
Last May its board of directors hired Ms. Weiss as the Chamber’s executive director in charge of day-to-day operations. Ms. Weiss, who had spent most of her career not actually running a business, but in assorted roles such as a voice-over artist and event planner specializing in wine tastings and musical events, and in various library-related jobs, was selected as executive director by a unanimous vote of the Chamber’s board of directors. The president of the board is not someone with actual business experience in the private sector, but Dr. Joe Schroeder, a former public school teacher and the current superintendent of the local schools.
As first reported by Mark Belling, a conservative Milwaukee talk show host who regularly guest hosts for Rush Limbaugh, it turns out that Ms. Weiss (or, possibly, an evil twin who shares her residence; see below) recently signed a petition promoted by Big Labor which seeks to have Wisconsin’s pro-business Republican governor, Scott Walker, recalled from office.
As Belling noted in introducing the topic on March 14 (here): “One wouldn’t be surprised to see leaders of the teachers’ union and other lefty groups signing the recall. But what about somebody who runs a Chamber of Commerce — a business organization? . . . [B]elieve it or not, . . . [t]he woman whose job it is is to promote economic development in Muskego wants to throw out of office the guy who is doing more to restore fiscal health in our state than maybe any governor in our history!”
As readers may recall, Governor Walker was elected and took office on the explicit promise to make Wisconsin “open for business” again. To do so he pledged to fix the fiscal crisis by cutting spending without raising taxes — indeed, while cutting taxes to attract business to Wisconsin and create jobs for its citizens. Working with a Republican legislature, Governor Walker did all this in under a year. The result is that Wisconsin’s fiscal crisis has been solved, and its national standing as a place to do business has vastly improved.
Here is an mp3 clip of the portions of Belling’s March 15 show devoted to the topic. To see the petition page signed by Ms. Weiss click on the below thumbnail (line 6; an official PDF copy of the page is hosted on the Government Accountability Board website here):
Belling did his best to avoid undue focus on Ms. Weiss. Instead he focused on this odd situation as an illustration of a broader point he has long emphasized on his show: the general state of affairs, at least in Wisconsin, that conservative organizations tend to be run by people who are much more liberal than their members, and the need for conservative voters and members of organizations to exercise greater vigilance in selecting their leaders.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with Dr. Schroeder and the other eight voting members of the Chamber’s board of directors selecting an anti-business liberal as executive director. As a private organization, the Chamber of Commerce of Muskego has every right to pick anyone it wishes to head its operations. The avian occupants of a hen house can choose a fox as their guard if they wish. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) can choose an executive director who in his or her private life runs a microbrewery and lobbies in favor of lowering the drinking age. The Catholic Church can appoint as Archbishop of Milwaukee someone who in his or her private life signs petitions in favor of taxpayer funding of abortions. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) can select a matador as its head. But as Belling suggests, to prevent such odd results, the members of organizations need to take care that their leaders devote due attention to the members’ values and interests.
Had Ms. Weiss explained why she signed the petition, and then either stood by her decision or admitted she’d made a mistake, she would have avoided being spotlighted on this blog. Instead, she declined to answer Belling’s inquiries despite having a day to do so (as Belling explained at around the one-minute mark here). Eventually she addressed the matter in an e-mail responding to an e-mail from a Chamber member calling on her to resign (apparently more than ten members want her to resign), and in an interview with a local newspaper, the Waukesha Freeman. What she said makes this matter much more newsworthy, for it seems we have here an illustration of the typical liberal view that one almost never need face up to responsibility for one’s own actions, at least if one is a liberal.
“Evil Twin” Defense. Ms. Weiss’s first explanation was that she, “Tina Weiss,” didn’t sign the petition. It was signed by “Christine Weiss,” apparently her evil twin who happens to reside at the same address she does. And, indeed, public records confirm that one “Christine T. Weiss” (formerly Waldron) does reside at the address listed on the petition. “I don’t go by Tina Weiss as a private citizen, so it was not signed by Tina Weiss if you can understand that,” Ms. Weiss told the Waukesha Freeman (quote here; most of article behind paywall).
“It’s Private” Defense. Ms. Weiss also insisted to the Waukesha Freeman that even if people conclude that “Tina Weiss,” the person employed as the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, actually signed the petition, she was merely expressing “personal beliefs,” as a “private citizen.” Ms. Weiss also emphasized this point in her e-mail responding to the members of the Chamber who want her to resign, which Belling quoted from and discussed on his show (between 8:00 and 14:00 here).
Ms. Weiss may have a point, but her complaint cannot be considered in a vacuum. At first glance it may seem unfair that Ms. Weiss is suffering collateral damage from the political chaos that has engulfed Wisconsin during the past year. But Ms. Weiss is fair game under the rules for political combat established by Big Labor, the main backer of the petition she chose to sign.
For the past year Big Labor and its Democrat allies have been implacable and uniform in their opposition to the needed budget reforms proposed and ultimately enacted by the Republicans. Big Labor, in particular, has employed no-holds-barred tactics, personalizing the political in ways never previously done in Wisconsin. In so doing it has largely eviscerated earlier notions of a difference between one’s private positions on political matters and one’s public activities in business.
The road to wiping out the private/public distinction was a short one. Opening “a new front in the ideological battle” in Wisconsin,” in early March, 2011, Big Labor sought to economically cripple individual businesses that did not agree with the Big Labor agenda. For example, it boycotted two of Milwaukee’s major employers, M&I Bank (which employs one of the Chamber’s directors, Cheryl Smith) and Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. (which employ’s Weiss’s husband Scott), and Wisconsin-based convenience store chain Kwic Trip. Big Labor justified these boycotts on the basis that some employees at the companies had contributed money to Gov. Walker’s campaign — even though, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out in an editorial, employees at the companies “also gave sizable contributions” to Walker’s Democrat opponent.
But Big Labor wasn’t satisfied with merely punishing businesses that supported its political opponents. By the end of March it expanded the boycott to target business people who did not contribute to Republicans, and who had not spoken in support of the Republican agenda, but instead merely wanted to remain neutral.
There’s no dispute about what happened. Big Labor was so brazen in its tactics that it announced, in writing — indeed, in letters sent to individual businesses — boycotts of any business that refused to display a sign in its window supporting the union’s position against the proposed budget bill. As one observer characterized this “appalling” tactic: “It’s kind of like the old protection racket: ‘If you have the right sticker, we won’t break your knees.’ This is beyond the pale to force a small-business person to choose when they want to stay neutral. But that isn’t good enough.”
Ms. Weiss, and her Big Labor allies who sponsored the petition to recall Gov. Walker that she signed, need to live up to their own book of rules. Under the rules of engagement laid down last year by Big Labor, even if Ms. Weiss were just a private businessperson in Muskego who wanted to remain neutral on the recall, it would be fair for Gov. Walker’s supporters to criticize her — even boycott her business — merely because she refused to speak out against recall.
But of course, Ms. Weiss is not just a private businessperson. She’s the executive director of the Muskego Chamber of Commerce, pledged to pursue a pro-business agenda on behalf of its members — and she now has been caught actively assisting Big Labor’s anti-business agenda. However much she and her allies may try to characterize her signing of the petition as “private,” under the rules for ideological battle which have been articulated in Wisconsin this past year by Big Labor, Ms. Weiss’s ideological ally, clearly Ms. Weiss is a fair target for criticism.
Obviously the business people who are members of the Chamber are thinking long and hard about whether they want as their executive director a person who signed an anti-business petition backed by the same Big Labor forces that less than a year ago undertook concerted action to punish small businesses simply for wanting to remain neutral in the political fight.