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Should Michigan GOP brace for reprisal over 'right to work' law?

When Republicans in Wisconsin and Ohio took on Big Labor, unions fought back ferociously. But Michigan's GOP lawmakers, calculating the political risks of pushing a 'right to work' law, may have looked to Indiana as a better precedent.

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Snyder told MSNBC Tuesday the unions were warned to expect a reprisal if they proceeded with the referendum on the constitutional amendment.

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“I asked them not to go forward. And the reason I said is, ‘You’re going to start a very divisive discussion. It’ll be about collective bargaining first, but it’ll create a big stir about right-to-work in addition to collective bargaining.’ ”

The experience of neighboring Indiana, where a right-to-work measure was approved in February, also emboldened Michigan lawmakers. Many said they believed that businesses would migrate from Michigan to Indiana as a result, hurting an already-struggling Michigan economy.

But the thousands of union workers and their supporters who stormed the streets surrounding the state Capitol on Tuesday perceive right-to-work as a bid to weaken unions – and not as strictly intended to boost economic development, as Republicans suggest. Some union leaders say their next step is to mobilize efforts to defeat Snyder and other Republicans in the next election in 2014.

Mr. Masters says he expects Democrats to push for a ballot initiative to rescind the right-to-work law. He also expects Snyder, who often portrays himself as a moderate, to align himself more with the Republican Party to ensure its support for any coming fight.

“He will be in pretty good shape," Masters says. "You will see him angle very carefully to the right to make certain he doesn’t have a primary opponent” for his 2014 reelection bid.

Snyder leads a hypothetical Democratic opponent, 47 percent to 41 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released in mid-November. That's an improvement from a similar poll a year earlier. The poll surveyed 700 likely Michigan voters and has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

To Republicans calculating the political risks of their bold right-to-work gambit, the experience in Indiana – not Wisconsin or Ohio – may have been the precedent that mattered most. There, Republican lawmakers faced reelection in the same year they approved a right-to-work bill. Because of term limits, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) did not himself have to run on that record, but his party easily retained the governor's office in November.

“The Republicans now have a quorum-proof majority in both houses after the last election,” says Brian Vargus, a political scientist at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.

Union anger over right-to-work did “not resonate” at the polls in November because Governor Daniels' message “about his need to get unions out of politics” resonated with voters amid a climate of economic uncertainty, says Mr. Vargus.

“The image [Republicans created] was that all unions cared about were their pensions.... And they also made the argument that right-to-work was about getting jobs,” Vargus says. “And this election was all about jobs.”

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