Yesterday the recalls of 6 Republican State senators were held in Wisconsin. This recall effort was the fruits of an effort by the Democratic Party and labor groups to recall 8 Republican State senators available for recall under State law. The whole effort depended on Democrats taking at least 3 of the 6 seats subject to recall, rendering the State senate majority to the Democrats and putting a stop to Governor Scott Walker’s ideological agenda. That effort has failed–for now–as Democrats have taken only 2 of 6 of the Republican seats up for recall. While this is disappointing, it shouldn’t be taken out-of-context: Democrats could only immediately recall Republicans in seats that have been in Republican hands for some time–not marginal districts or recent pickups.
The Liberal Ironist previously called for–and still calls for–the recall of Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who has been very busy in his 1st year in office. Having passed large business tax cuts upon assuming office, the Governor then quickly set about converting Wisconsin into a “freedom-to-work” State, stripping its public employee unions of the right of collective bargaining for anything more than to adjust their current salaries with inflation. (In essence, public employees in Wisconsin have lost the right to collectively bargain for anything more than–at best–to maintain the wages they have now.) Governor Walker characterized this issue as about restoring the State of Wisconsin to fiscal health, but the budget had been close to balance before the Governor passed his business tax cuts. Among other measures, the Governor also rejected hundreds of millions of dollars in Federal grants to upgrade Wisconsin’s passenger rail infrastructure. (The ideologically-similar Governors of Ohio and Florida did the same, the principal result of which was simply the transfer of those Federal funds to other States with plans to upgrade their intercity passenger rail infrastructure.) Still on the docket (thanks to the failure of the Democratic recall effort to shift partisan control of the State senate) is legalization of concealed-weapons and new rules requiring provision of ID to vote–a cause celebre of Republicans and social conservatives that appears aimed at people who don’t have a driver’s license. Among the principal developments I discussed in my previous entry on this story was the comical “Koch call” in which Liberal blogger Ian Murphy called Governor Walker’s office claiming to be billionaire Texas energy magnate and Tea Party fundraiser David Koch–and landed a 20-minute phone conversation with the Governor. Among other rather unflattering episodes during the “Koch call,” Governor Walker asked Koch outright to provide money for TV ads attacking Wisconsin’s senate Democrats for leaving the State so the budget bill including the union-breaking provisions couldn’t come up for a vote; fake-David Koch asked Governor Walker if he considered using paid troublemakers to get the crowd to do something criminal–to which the Governor said that he had considered that but judged against it because was he worried it might cause public opinion to shift decisively in favor of settlement with the unions; he compared his own fight to break the teachers’ unions in Wisconsin with Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers–and bizarrely claimed the latter “was the first crack in the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communism;” and eagerly said he’d like to take fake-David Koch up on his offer of a good time. So, it’s not surprising given these surreal revelations–which the Governor has owned-up to–that Walker polled at 59% disapproval in a University of Wisconsin poll in mid-July. Still, disapproval of an incumbent’s performance doesn’t always translate into support for the available alternative, and in any case Governor Walker is not eligible for recall until he has been in office at least 1 year. That gives Walker another half a year to say Wisconsin has moved on (and to push a fairly right-wing agenda in the home of the University of Wisconsin and dairy farmers).
The failure of the Democrats to take the Wisconsin senate (and thus to stop the flurry of the usual right-wing legislation out of a State where it’s proving to be pretty unpopular) is discouraging, but needs to be put into perspective. True, the Democratic Party and public employee unions weren’t able to muster enough voters in a State President Obama won by about a 14% margin in 2008 to pick up half of 6 seats subject to recall in a State senate they controlled until last November’s election. But the explanation for this is simple: Wisconsin’s recall rules only allow elected officials who have been in office for at least 1 year to be recalled. So only Republican State senators who were already in office through 2010 (and who generally represented more-securely Republican districts) were eligible for recall yesterday. As I said before, 8 Republicans were eligible for recall this year; 6 Republicans faced recall drives that gathered enough signatures for the vote; finally, 2 were recalled, though these 8 Republicans as a class were probably the most-secure in the State senate under normal political circumstances. While some advance polling suggested a Democratic edge in 3-4 of these senate districts, even this indication was contested on methodological grounds and had tightened-up just before the vote. What’s interesting is that Wisconsin’s deep and often close partisan divide appears to have been quite stable for the past 5 tempestuous months: SurveyUSA’s early-March poll in Wisconsin found clear majorities for the recall of GOP State senators Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper–and those were the Senators who were recalled. So, what we’ve learned is that an assault on a cornerstone Progressive institution such as public employee unions–unlike, say, an assault on universal-benefactor entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare–can’t shift an electorate against activist Republicans in defiance of existing political geography, but it is sufficiently-alienating to a contested electorate to bring politically-marginal districts back to the Democrats.
So, for now Republicans have a 1-vote senate majority with which to pursue their agenda in Wisconsin. But this is a swing state, and still apparently trending blue in Presidential elections. With a concealed weapons law in a State with traditionally-strict gun laws and an ID requirement in the birthplace of Progressivism both on the docket, think of each month between now and his recall as another foot in the grave of Scott Walker’s political career.