In signing anti-union legislation, Michigan's moderate Republican governor inflamed the left and damaged himself politically. Was he really painted into a corner?
Why did Michigan do it?
This week, one of America's most heavily unionized states became the 24th in the nation to enact "right-to-work" legislation that allows employees in union shops to opt out of paying dues or fees. It was a sudden move, pushed through the GOP-led lame-duck legislature without committee hearings, blindsiding Democrats and confounding political observers.
For years, the state's Republican governor, a moderate former businessman named Rick Snyder, had said he wasn't interested in a right-to-work law. Then, in a sudden about-face, he signed the pair of right-to-work bills proposed by GOP legislators. The bills came to Snyder just a month after a union-backed ballot initiative to enshrine collective bargaining in the state's constitution failed at the polls. By the time massive pro-labor protests were called and the issue hit the national radar, it was too late. Right-to-work was a fait accompli in Michigan almost before opponents knew what hit them.
The move has already done major political damage to Snyder, whose image as a bipartisan conciliator is at risk of turning into one as a right-wing bully. But Snyder -- the onetime CEO of the Gateway computer company, whose unorthodox 2010 campaign branded him "One Tough Nerd" -- was unrepentant when I spoke to him on Thursday.