Why Wisconsin Matters
Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall election today isn’t just a weather vane showing campaign 2012’s wind direction. It has real and emotional repercussions that will rumble across America like an earthquake.
The recall will change state politics nationwide in fundamental ways long after the noise of November fades into nothingness.
It has crucial national politic implications, too. It:
- Addresses the #1 issue in campaign 2012 – jobs and the economy
- Challenges the collective bargaining process
- Challenges the size and scope of big government at all levels
- Pits core Republican fiscal values against core Democratic social values
- Challenges the power of unions to control elections
- Challenges the power of protest movements in shaping long-term public opinion
Today’s election results will leave an indelible marker on state and local politics nationwide that won’t wash off. How it is resolved will shape individual state fiscal policy everywhere for many years to come.
The National Setting
Because of the Great Recession, all 50 U.S. states face fiscal crises of epic proportions. Most states, like Wisconsin, require balanced budgets.
ARRA propped up state governments. It’s funding ran out at the end of 2010. That left most states with huge budget deficits for 2011 and beyond.
Public sector job losses the last two years are not in federal employment. No. All public job losses are at the state and local levels.
Wisconsin took a controversial path to solving their $3.6 billion budget shortfall without cutting jobs.
Why Was Scott Walker Elected in 2010?
Scott Walker was elected a fiscally conservative governor to combat a massive $3.6 billion deficit.
Though known as a democratic stronghold nationally, Walker’s mandate for change was stamped by Republican majorities voted into both statehouses. Why?
In an unprecedented landslide in 2010, Republicans nationwide were swept back into power. First, they won the U.S. House of Representatives.
For good or for ill, that win alone altered the national debate. Democrats lost invincible 2008 majorities.
Wisconsin got caught up in the maelstrom fomented by the Tea Party Movement.
The Tea Party Movement started with a set of nationwide protests on tax day – April 15th, 2009. It was ordinary Americans of every demographic revolting against big government spending and excessive taxation. It captured the mood of the nation.
The Tea Party’s biggest influence in 2010 was in state and local elections. Nationwide, 625 statehouse seats changed hands from Democratic to Republican control.
Walker was one of about 10 governorships grabbed away from Democrats by Republicans.
Scott Walker Creates a Firestorm
At the heart of Walker’s plan to close the budget shortfall was stripping away all public employee union collective bargaining rights except for salary.
Mostly it was to reel in burgeoning health care costs. Other states, like Oregon, resolved that issue within existing collective bargaining agreements.
Walker didn’t! To add insult to public union injury, his plan also rescinded the requirement that all public employees must pay union dues.
That triggered a firestorm of nationwide protest against union busting. Protesters by the 10s of thousands rallied in support of Wisconsin. They were held in every state in the United States. They were organized and otherwise funded by public unions like the SEIU, but also by uninvolved unions like the UAW and Teamsters who see themselves as threatened.
Fueled by emotional outrage and national union money, more than twice as many signatures as needed were gathered to force a recall election of Governor Walker and others.
Walker’s Approach Appears To Be Working
Whether you like it or not, Walker’s fiscal conservative approach to combat Wisconsin’s massive $3.6 billion budget deficit has been largely successful.
The worst case scenario has Wisconsin now facing a manageable $143 million budget deficit right now. Teachers and other unioned state employees were not massively fired. Walker even cut taxes.
Wisconsin’s state unemployment rate has dropped from 7.7% to an enviable 6.7% since Walker took office. According to the BLS, Wisconsin has added about 30,000 jobs into the state economy during Walker’s tenure.
President Obama could coast into a second term with Walker’s success.
Depending on their political persuasion, however, Wisconsin voters have chosen to either believe or disbelieve those facts in a hotly contested recall election.
Where Is President Obama?
A year ago, at the peak of national outrage over Walker limiting collective bargaining rights, President Obama said this at the National Governors Conference:
“I don’t think anybody does any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon.“
– President Obama, 3/5/2011, National Governor’s Conference
This year, in a tight race defending public employee rights, President Obama is AWOL.
The Daily Beast, which will never be accused of right-wing anything, took exception to Obama’s decision to avoid Wisconsin.
Apparently, campaign math drove Obama’s decision. Obama has a strong lead in Wisconsin. He chose not to jeopardize that lead and stand up for unions. It looks like a lost cause.
That decision will prove to be a lose-lose for the Obama campaign. Should Tom Barrett win, Democrats and unions will still remember Obama abandoned them. Should Tom Barrett lose today, and the polls say he will, Wisconsin Democrats and unions nationwide will be hard pressed to be enthusiastic for the President.
The President, however, did graciously Tweet support for Tom Barrett yesterday.
In the meantime, the only organizing effort in Wisconsin making national headlines was the Tea Party Movement quietly canvasing the state with a door-to-door, get-out-the-vote bus tour over the weekend.
Scott Walker is gonna win today. Nationally, Democrats and unions have all but waved a white flag.
Perhaps not all, but most of the other officials under recall today will win, too.
It won’t be because the Republican money machine bought the votes. It won’t be because national Democrats and unions abandoned support for Tom Barrett at the last minute. It won’t be because the Tea Party bus tour outflanked Democrats.
It will be because Scott Walker’s policies are working and Wisconsin voters know it.
As a result, State governments all over the nation will reshape their approach to budget deficit reduction. Scott Walker took the heat and won the war for them.
After today, Democrats will be floating a foundering ship into the November elections.