On a Saturday edition of CNN’s heavily watched Capital Gang in January 1997,
syndicated columnists Robert Novak and Mark Shields, the show’s cohosts, were
discussing the biggest political news item of the week: the unexpected conclusion of the
race for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee (RNC).
The day before, the 165 RNC members had chosen Colorado GOP Chairman Jim
Nicholson to replace retiring RNC Chairman Haley Barbour. The outcome was a bitter
disappointment for former New Hampshire Gov. Steve Merrill, who had emerged in late
1996 as the clear front-runner in the contest. The chief cause of Mr. Merrill’s defeat was
the intense grass-roots opposition of National Right to Work Committee members.
Mr. Novak was well aware why Right to Work members and supporters had
opposed Mr. Merrill and urged RNC members to do the same. The former governor,
argued Mr. Novak, “got in trouble because he hadn’t supported Right to Work laws in
New Hampshire. It’s . . . a very big issue in the Republican party.”
As a dyed-in-the-wool apologist for forced unionism, Mr. Shields naturally
couldn’t agree. Instead, he implied that the Right to Work cause had seen its day. But
Mr. Novak countered that six decades after Congress had passed the Wagner Act and
thus imposed forced unionism on the nation, the Right to Work movement was stronger
than ever before.
“It’s so old-fashioned, ” Mr. Novak concluded, “it’s a brand new idea.”
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