Despite spending around twenty million dollars to recall six Republican State Senators, the Democrats (or more precisely their union and PAC allies) came up short in last Tuesday's elections. Two seats did switch: Dan Kapanke lost in LaCrosse in a district that is probably around D+5 and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac lost. His district is at least R+3 but he had severe personal problems came up two percent short. The Democrats thought he was particularly vulnerable as he had won his first term in 2008 by just 200 votes. Luther Olsen of Ripon survived with 52% and Alberta Darling, a particular target for the Democrats, won with 54% of the vote. We won't know for a while but estimates are that three million dollars was spent against her. That's simply an amazing sum that's several times the average. She's close to the governor and she is the Chairperson of the Finance Committee. If the Democrats could have knocked off Olsen or Darling they'd control the chamber but it simply wasn't meant to be.
Next week there will be two Democrats on the recall ballot: Jim Holperin in the northeast section of Wisconsin and Robert Wirch, who sits in a district in the far southeastern part of the state. In my opinion, Holperin is very vulnerable. He squeaked by in 2008 to win his first term but he's facing an aggressive GOP challnger. There haven't been many polls on the races so it is hard to know where they stand. I do expect a poll or two to be released Monday.
If anything, these elections show the raw power of the unions and especially of organizations like the ProgressNow network, which is a sixteen member liberal umbrella organization funded by unions and megarich liberals. They poured everything they had into these recalls. How can they spend so much money legally? As long as they don't cooperate with the campaigns of the respective candidates they can pretty much do whatever they want. Wisconsin was saturated with commercials, mailings, and paid workers who flooded the state. The President is planning to raise 1 billion dollars for his campaign next year. Unions will fund about 400 million and will expect a large return politically. The automatic deducations of union workers (especially public sector workers) fund a robust Demcoratic machine that can renew itself every month as more donations pour in. In states like Wisconsin, public workers can now choose to withhold their donations which can do great damage to the Democrats effort in 2012 and beyond. As union dues dry up their influence will continue to wane. That explains part of the great hysteria in Madison; many intrinsically knew that union power and their symbiosis with the Democratic Party was on the line.
This election was to serve as a warning for any GOP or other public officials who wanted to take on the unions. Instead, it has heartened conservatives that they can win elections even when they are outspent (in this case probably around 2 to 1) and in a purple state (like Wisconsin). 89% of Americans are not in unions and, in the end, I believe their hysterical tactics they used in Madison along with consistently negative advertising proved to be their undoing. The GOP was energized and fought back hard; they put in a lot of resources and squeaked by with a victory just as they had in the April Supreme Court election.
Ironically, the issue that set the recalls going was never mentioned in the campaign advertisements. Governor Walker's bid to end collective barganing was not mentioned, only allusions to how he had "cut the education budget." There was also a lot of time spent on senior scare tactics as each GOP State Senator apparently wanted to "end Medicare as we know it," whatever that means (that will be a preview of next year's Presidential campaign). It really shows that collective barganing is a losing issue. The people it motivates aren't going to vote Republican anyway and political independents don't have the work protections that union people do and for the most part pay a lot more for their insurance and pensions and so the issue doesn't resonate with them.
Perhaps the funniest thing about this whole mess is that Wisconsin's budget is now in surplus and several school districts are not going to have to fire teachers because they are not as constrained by collective bargaining. As this trend continues and more people see the success of the Governor's plan he'll end up gtting at least partial credit for what he pushed through and put everything on the line for. While very vulnerable next year he won't go down without a fight and the Democrats should think long and hard about trying to recall him and face the prospect of him winning yet again.
One last thought; who is to blame for the end of collective barganing in Wisconsin? Is it Scott Walker? The GOP legislature? The answer is Barack Obama-the biggest union ally in the history of the Presidency. Had he not overreached and gone so far to the left in the first two years of his Presidency GOP gains would have not been so great at the national and state levels. And, if he somehow gets himself reelected, collective bargaining will be dead for several cycles in Wisconsin and other states as GOP majorities in many stathouses will endure for years to come.
In the end, Wisconsin had a choice to be like Illinois or Indiana. Illinois is in a state of political and economic chaos. The public pension system is terribly underfunded (in Cook County alone there are over 100 billion of unfunded liabilities) and taxation is very high. Indiana on the other hand, is solvent and growing. Even though it was very painful politically, Wisconsin has chosen to be Indiana and hopefully will continue to grow and proper in the years to come.