Nuggets from the notebook while wondering if Maine’s labor groups will be emboldened by their colleagues in Wisconsin …

From Maine’s perspective, watching the protests in Wisconsin may seem like watching events in another country. In fact, a political science professor recently quoted in the Christian Science Monitor compared the scene in Madison to the one that took place in Egypt.

Thousands of state workers and teachers have descended on the state’s capitol building in Madison. Their target: Gov. Scott Walker, who has introduced a budget repair bill that he says will help patch that state’s deficit.

The bill includes a provision that would eliminate the collective bargaining rights of state workers.

Enter the Cheddar Revolution.

Fourteen senate Democrats have fled the state in an attempt to stall a vote on Walker’s bill. Walker has ordered the state police to wait near the senators’ homes so that the lawmakers can be scooped up and brought to the state house to vote. One senator narrowly avoided capture when he returned home to get some sleep.

The senators have vowed to stay on the lam for weeks unless Walker stands down. So far, Walker is refusing.

Meanwhile, tea party activists and conservatives have responded with counterprotests and rhetoric depicting the union workers as spoiled thugs.

Right now it’s hard to envision such a scene taking place in Augusta. 

But it could.

Wisconsin is considered ground zero in the Republican fight against organized labor. But some national labor advocates see other fronts opening in states like Maine, where the GOP controls the State House and the governor’s office.

Gerald W. McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the main union of state employees, recently told the New York Times that Maine was one of several states where organized labor was under attack.

There are at least three GOP bills in the Legislature this session that take aim at organized labor. One, sponsored by Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Androscoggin, would prohibit unions from making workers pay union dues.

Gov. Paul LePage’s disdain for unions was evident on the campaign trail, but a dropoff in public appearances has given the governor few opportunities to voice those opinions, or get asked about them.

During a recent press conference to announce the nomination of Steve Bowen as LePage’s education chief, a reporter asked Bowen, former teacher and an analyst with the conservative advocacy group the Maine Heritage Policy Center, about his relationship with the state teachers’ union.

LePage, standing off to the side with his staff, tried unsuccessfully to stifle a chuckle.

Chris Quint, the head of the state workers’ union, isn’t reading the governor’s body language to see a threat. Quint believes it’s in LePage’s budget.

In a recent post on Mainepolitics.net, Quint vowed to fight the governor’s spending plan because it includes what Quint believes are at least 10 measures that hurt state workers.

Quint urged members to mobilize.

“Our time is now if we want our voice to be heard in this budget,” Quint wrote.

Mike Tipping, of the progressive activist group the Maine People’s Alliance, said Maine is just beginning to see “some of the same kind of dramatic anti-union legislation from LePage and his allies that sparked the popular revolt in Wisconsin.”

“We aren’t at the same threat level as Wisconsin yet, but we’re getting there quickly,” Tipping, whose group is responding with a March 10 lobbying effort in the capitol, said.

Labor advocates face a stiff political challenge.

In January this column discussed Americans’ diminished view of unions amid declining influence and a weak economy. A 2009 Pew Research poll showed support for labor at an all-time low.

Such conditions are perfect for Republicans to deliver a coup de grace to a traditional pillar of Democrats’ political power. They’ve already laid the groundwork by pitting private sector workers against union workers, arguing that the latter receive Cadillac benefits and wages.

But the events in Wisconsin prove organized labor isn’t going quietly.

The Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America has reportedly helped coordinate the protests. The DNC told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the group’s involvement is overblown.

Regardless, national involvement underscores a point recently made in The New Republic by Joseph A McCartin, an associate professor for the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. Despite labor’s reportedly weakened stature, McCartin argued that Wisconsin was precisely the kind of moment organized labor needed to flip the GOP attacks. It’s organized labor that forced employers to provide the protections and benefits that workers enjoy today, he argued.

McCartin added that Walker’s attempt to eliminate collective bargaining has nothing do with staving off a financial crisis.

“It is really all about politics,” McCartin wrote. “As the protests that have erupted in Madison over the past few days remind us, even in its weakened state, the labor movement can still mobilize grassroots opposition to the anti-government agenda of Tea Party Republicans like Walker. It is precisely this capability that Walker and others are determined to undermine by taking away workers’ rights to union representation.”

‘I believe Cain’

Gov. Paul LePage said last week that he believed House minority leader Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, when she says she paid for an energy audit by the Maine Green Energy Alliance, the now-defunct group that the Maine Republican Party claims was a “slush fund” for Democrats.

LePage’s statement might leave some puzzled. After all, Cain has been a vocal critic of the governor’s proposals. Why not stand with the party, which has insinuated that Cain received the audit for free?

Perhaps the governor’s comments had more to do with his rumored rift with Maine GOP chairman Charlie Webster than his support of the pesky House minority leader.

Asked about his reaction to Webster’s insinuation that Cain didn’t pay for the audit, LePage said, “I’m going to be very candid. I don’t speak on their (Maine GOP’s) behalf, and they don’t speak on mine.”

He added, “I did speak to Emily Cain. She tells me she did pay for an energy audit. I buy it. I believe her. I have no reason not to. And I support what she said.”

MPBN’s A.J. Higgins then asked LePage about his relationship with Webster and the state party.

LePage: “We get along fine. He (Webster) does his thing, and I do mine. We get along just as well as you (Higgins) and I get along.”

LePage’s response drew laughter. Here’s why: Higgins and LePage haven’t always gotten along.

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