Why should the rest of the world care whether or not Wisconsin fired its governor?
Last week, voters went to the polls with accusations against Scott Walker ringing in their ears. Before the polls even opened, many in the media declared the vote was close – but that organized labor would win big and demonstrate that unions are still a formidable political force to be reckoned with.
And now pundits are saying Wisconsin was a preview of the election in November.
“Gov. Scott Walker already had become a national hero to conservatives for his willingness to take on his state’s powerful public employee unions,” noted the Los Angeles Times. “His victory – making him the only governor in U.S. history to survive a recall – will increase his stature even further.
“Walker carried 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties and expanded the vote he received when first elected in 2010. Already, speculation has started about a place for Walker on a future conservative presidential ticket.
“Labor unions, by contrast,” continued the Times article by political analyst David Lauter, “suffered a serious blow to their already-waning political clout. The recall made the third election in the space of a year in which labor failed to defeat Walker or a Walker proxy. The unions lost a fight to oust a conservative state Supreme Court justice and fell short of recalling enough GOP state senators last summer to put liberals in control of the chamber. And now this.”
Another casualty of the Wisconsin vote, according to pundits, was the mainstream, traditional press for its support of Walker’s accusers – and what some called a loss of credibility with Wisconsin voters.
But there is another casualty. “President Obama took considerable heat from Wisconsin liberals,” wrote Lauter, “for not venturing into the state to campaign against Walker as former President Clinton did. If Walker had won by only 1 or 2 percentage points, many fingers would be pointing in Obama’s direction. But with Walker winning by 7 percentage points, the argument that Obama would have made a difference becomes a lot harder to make.”
Thus, the question is raised whether Obama sensed the challenge was doomed – and distanced himself from it rather than get blamed for it.
But beyond that, does the Wisconsin vote mean that liberals are in trouble with the electorate?
“The bigger question for Obama is whether Walker’s victory means that Wisconsin – a state liberals have been counting in their column – is seriously in doubt in the fall. Overall turnout in the state was roughly 2.5 million voters – a significant increase from 2010 when Walker was first elected.”
Does that change things in November? Yes, said the Times. “Mitt Romney and his advisors have a decision to make: Is Wisconsin a state to seriously contest? Wisconsin conservatives will argue that the recall proved that their voter-turnout operation works splendidly and that a consistent, tough conservative can win.”
Just across the Great Lakes, the governor’s victory was eyed by America’s northern neighbor. “Wisconsin voters took the momentous step of not firing their governor. It’s very good news for the United States and probably Canada, too,” wrote political observer John Robson of CNews.
“Some Canadians envy American voters’ ability to fire politicians for cause between elections. Canadians might also envy Americans their political engagement. The Walker recall petition needed half a million signatures and got a million, then 2.5 of 4.4 million Wisconsin adults voted in the special election.
“The main thing we should envy, and imitate, is the outcome. His enemies typically called Walker a callous, hateful Tea Party puppet of wealthy bigots. But in fact he understood, like many politicians, that excessive pay and perks for public employees are one of two fundamental problems with government spending. Unlike many, he did something about it.
“To force state and local government workers to contribute more to their typically lavish health care and pension plans, Walker severely restricted their collective bargaining on most non-wage issues. He also forbade them to seek pay hikes above inflation without a public referendum. And he denied unions the automatic right to represent government workers or collect dues from all their paychecks.”
Thanks to Walker, any Wisconsin public employee who felt forced to be in a union could quit paying dues without repercussions. More than 30,000 did.
“The largest single Wisconsin public union promptly lost more than half its members,” noted Robson, “and the local American Federation of Teachers wing lost a third.”
Unions in the U.S. today actually only represent 7 percent of private sector employees. Their enormous strength is government employees. In the U.S., 37 percent of government workers are unionized. What Walker demonstrated was that if those employees aren’t required to join the union to keep their jobs, they would quit.
That terrifies the unions – and the liberal politicians who have been elected with union support. Canadian unions are just as worried, noted Robson. “Of those unionized in Canada in 2010, 71.4 percent were in the public sector and just 16 percent in the private sector.”
So Canada is watching. An American politician dared to take on organized labor in a heavily liberal state – and the unions fought back, attempting to throw him out of office.
“Instead he was not merely re-elected, he increased his vote share from 52.25 percent in the 2010 general election to 53.2 percent in the recall,” noted Robson, “and his total vote from 1,128,941 to 1,331,076.”
So now, U.S. liberal politicians have a problem in November’s elections, writes Robson. They “need the organizing muscle of public sector unions they now clearly cannot afford to be seen pampering.”
It seems the public really doesn’t like unions anymore. But key liberal politicians need them to stay in power, observes Robson.
“The key liberal setback here was on the issue, not the politics. Scott Walker tried to break the power of public sector unions to hold the public agenda hostage to their overly generous pay and perks. And despite a well-funded, well-organized challenge in a famously progressive state, the populace backed him.
“Like citizens of San Diego and San Jose, who voted heavily the same day to cut municipal pensions, Wisconsin voters understood that these unions are not champions of the underdog but irresponsibly selfish, reactionary defenders of entrenched privilege with no credible plan for avoiding a projected California $3.6-billion deficit.
“Walker could claim many advantages,” observed Robson. “But his main advantage was backbone. His example can and should inspire other fiscal conservatives to grow spines of their own. Including in Canada.”
“There was really all but one story in Wisconsin politics last week. An exclamation point, really, to a bitter saga that took more than 15 months to write,” noted the conservative Wisconsin Reporter. “Wisconsin made history in an unprecedented recall election. Now, as voters, parties and the media that followed their every move recover, the story of what’s next is just beginning to be written.
“Gov. Scott Walker still is governor — and, presumably, will be for at least two more years.
“Walker on bested his liberal challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, for the second time — becoming the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election.
“A record number of voters turned out to end the months-long recall campaign, with Walker scoring a 7 percentage point victory, 53 percent to 46 percent over Barrett.”
“Tonight, we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions,” Walker said in his victory speech.
“Some say the recall efforts began the day Walker was elected,” noted the Reporter. Unions nationwide were determined to keep Walker from carrying through on his campaign promises to reduce the unions’ enormous political power in Wisconsin.
“The world, it seems, knows what happened next,” noted the Reporter. “Tens of thousands of protesters came to Madison to challenge the reforms, 14 liberal senators fled to Illinois in order to delay a vote on the collective bargaining bill, the state Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the law, and then came recalls of nine state senators that led to two GOP senators losing their seats in summer 2011.
“And, all along, liberals and unions held out for the day when they could recall the governor himself. They launched that campaign in November, turning in more than 900,000 signatures on a recall petition in mid-January.
“The recall campaign bet — that Wisconsin voters would toss out Walker less than mid-term — ended in a bust.”
So, what happens next?
“It’s hard to throw a party with a casket in the room,” quipped Wisconsin political reporter M.D. Kittle. “That’s the feeling,” he noted, in Wisconsin in the days after liberals and government-employee unions “took a beating at the polls in the state’s unprecedented recall election. While hindsight is 20/20, a chorus of voices, from politicians to national organized labor, has been critical of Wisconsin’s recall drive, arguing it would have been better to wait to take on Walker in 2014.
“With a tough presidential election coming up, perhaps the most telling liberal disinterest in the recall movement came in President Barack Obama’s, who did not make a single campaign appearance in the Badger State during the recall campaign.
“Maria Cardona, a national liberal strategist and principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm, said she’s not going to make any judgments. ‘I don’t like to say that it was a mistake because this was something that was an egregious act that the public employees of Wisconsin thought they needed to do something about,’ Cardona said of Act 10, the law, pushed by Walker, which stripped collective bargaining for most public employees in the state.
“Now,” noted Kittle, “Wisconsin liberals have to regroup and, pundits assert, find a way to regain relevancy.”
“The recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was a critical bellwether,” writes political columnist James Simpson. “A Walker loss would have guaranteed more ruinous, out-of-control government spending, where unions and their vested interests dictate terms through violence, thuggery and deceit. But the Wisconsin electorate rejected that path, handing Walker a resounding victory. This will embolden leaders in other states to tackle similar problems head on.
“Governor Walker deserves our heartfelt thanks for his steadfast determination to do the right thing. But you will never know just how difficult this was if you get your news from the ‘mainstream’ liberal media. While shamelessly championing the liberals’ cause, they completely ignored the unprecedented, outrageous campaign of hate and lies promoted by those same liberals and their public employee union allies. This shameless, naked, self-serving attempted power grab is a story in-and-of itself.
“News reports of the union-orchestrated, Democratic National Committee-backed, month-long occupation of the Wisconsin state capital last year were ubiquitous,” writes Simpson. “This was followed by a flurry of recall efforts last summer and this winter against 16 senators as well as Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. This recall was unprecedented. There have been only three times in history when more than one legislator has been recalled over any single issue.
“What is less known is that the recall effort against Governor Walker – indeed, the entire attack – was far from spontaneous. Within days of his election the left began contemplating a recall, and it began in earnest in February of 2011, before his controversial budget bill was even passed. The left had him in its sights from day one.
“Following the announcement of Governor Walker’s ‘Budget Repair Bill,’ last February, unions went on a rampage. Beginning around February 15, 2011, protesters began massing around the state Capitol building in Madison. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka addressed the growing crowd the following day. By the 20th protesters were occupying the capitol building. They were enthusiastically supported by the national news media, which compared Wisconsin protests to Egypt.
“ABC’s Christiane Amanpour said, ‘Populist frustration is boiling over this week, as we’ve said, not just in the Middle East, but in the middle of this country as well.’
“On NBC, Brian Williams exclaimed, ‘From the Mideast to the American Midwest tonight, people are rising up. Citizens’ uprisings are changing the world.’ Ed Schultz broadcast live from the Capitol on February 17th.
“An editor of the leftwing Buffalo Beast contacted Walker by phone, impersonating billionaire Walker supporter David Koch, who Walker had never spoken with before. He recorded and broadcast the call. The Society of Professional Journalists called it ‘underhanded and unethical… grossly inappropriate.’”
The occupation of the Capital building made national front page news for weeks running, but the liberal news media somehow missed several stories, giving little attention to such stories as schoolteacher and union activist Katherine Windels who pled guilty to making death threats to Governor Walker and conservative senators. E-mails made statements like: “Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your families will also be killed.”
Also overlooked in the mainstream media was how in distant Maine, a man was arrested after sending similar letters to that state’s conservative U.S. senators suggesting that Walker should be killed and that all conservative governors needed to resign. The liberal press averted its eyes. A relatively unknown “blogger,” Jim Hoft of the almost-unknown website “Gateway Pundit” alerted the world to the Maine arrest as well as dozens of emails sent by liberals suggesting Walker or legislators should be shot or hanged. The emails warned them to “watch their backs, look over their shoulders or resign,” reported Simpson. “One man tweeted that he prayed an anvil would fall from the sky onto Walker.”
But the mainstream media didn’t find such stories newsworthy. Police found 41 rounds of live ammunition near three separate entrances to the capitol building in early March, but only Fox News reported it.
A union agitator posted on his personal Facebook site a photo of Governor Walker’s young son, asking, “What’s it like having the most hated dad in Wisconsin? This kid knows.” The same man poured beer on Wisconsin State Representative Robin Voss at a local restaurant after screaming at him in public that he had “five days to respond” to demands. In response “at a leftwing ‘Fighting Bob’ La Follette festival,” reports Simpson, “celebrating Wisconsin’s famous ‘progressive,’ one of the speakers said ‘If you’re going to pour beer on a conservative, you have to drink it first.’”
In one of the most outrageous incidents, union members disrupted a Special Olympics award ceremony honoring mentally and physically disabled children and adults. Made up as zombies, the union members stood between the governor and award recipients, preventing the handicapped athletes from receiving their hard-won awards.
“Do these people have no shame?” asked Simpson. “Wisconsin’s firefighter’s union refused to participate in a 9-11 float depicting firefighters raising the flag on the World Trade Center grounds. The float’s creator was a union supporter of Scott Walker.
“Peshtigo High School chorus teacher Rob Schneider resigned after sending the following e-mail to conservative state Rep. John Nygren: ‘(Expletive) you!!! I pray that a semi-truck will run you over you piece of (expletive) (expletive)! If there is a God that (expletive) Governor Walker will be riding with you when the truck hits your sorry (expletive)!!!!!!!!!! Stop (expletive) sending me your (expletive)!!! You are a waste of human space!!!!’”
Yet, in the media, it was the conservatives who were portrayed as ill-mannered and extremist.
“In its abdication of honest journalism,” writes Simpson, “the media has completely overlooked another story as well, the election and recall of Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.” She is a former news anchor who quit in 2004 to be a stay-at-home mom to her two children. Increasingly fed up with Wisconsin’s dysfunctional government, she announced her candidacy for Lieutenant Governor by webcam from her kitchen table in January of 2010.
“Kleefisch was diagnosed with colon cancer in the middle of her campaign, underwent surgery, won her campaign, and went on to get chemotherapy just as the recall was beginning. Despite this amazing tale of courage and determination, or perhaps because of it, the left’s attacks on Kleefisch were unprecedented in their vile viciousness,” notes Simpson. “One leftist radio host said on air,
“I’m Rebecca Kleefisch. I (obscenity) all the talk show hosts in Milwaukee. And they endorse me and that’s how I became lieutenant governor.” He then went on to mock her in the most sexually explicit terms.
“Where was the media on that one?” asked Simpson. “Where was the National Organization of Women?”
The largest union contributor to the Walker recall was Wisconsin’s largest teacher’s union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council. They have reported spending $4.4 million in the campaign. Their loss cannot but diminish their clout, noted Simpson. They were already being eyed skeptically by voters after fighting “the dismissal of two public school science teachers fired for viewing and emailing porn from their work computers.
“Legal battles,” noted Simpson, “cost the district over $500,000 defending an open-and-shut administrative decision, a stark demonstration of the union’s priorities and attitudes.”
Why is the Wisconsin vote of note?
“Tuesday, June 5, 2012,” writes conservative author Charles Krauthammer, “will be remembered as the beginning of the long decline of the public-sector union. It will follow, and parallel, the shrinking of private-sector unions.
“The abject failure of the unions to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — the first such failure in U.S. history — marks the Icarus moment of government-union power. Wax wings melted, there’s nowhere to go but down.
“The ultimate significance of Walker’s union reforms has been largely misunderstood. At first, the issue was curtailing outrageous union benefits, far beyond those of the ordinary Wisconsin taxpayer. That became a non-issue when the unions quickly realized that trying to defend the indefensible would render them toxic for the real fight to come.
“So they made the fight about the ‘right’ to collective bargaining, which the reforms severely curtailed. In a state as historically progressive as Wisconsin — in 1959, it was the first to legalize the government-worker union — they thought they could win as a matter of ideological fealty.
“But as the recall campaign progressed, the liberals stopped talking about bargaining rights. It was a losing issue. Walker was able to make the case that years of corrupt union-politician back-scratching had been bankrupting the state. And he had just enough time to demonstrate the beneficial effects of overturning that arrangement: a huge budget deficit closed without raising taxes, significant school-district savings from ending cozy insider health-insurance contracts, and a modest growth in jobs.
“But the real threat behind all this was that the new law ended automatic government collection of union dues. That was the unexpressed and politically inexpressible issue. Without the thumb of the state tilting the scale by coerced collection, union membership became truly voluntary. Result? Newly freed members rushed for the exits. In less than one year, AFSCME, the second largest public-sector union in Wisconsin, has lost more than 50 percent of its membership.
“It was predictable. In Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels instituted by executive order a similar reform seven years ago, government-worker unions have since lost 91 percent of their dues-paying membership. In Wisconsin, liberal and union bosses understood what was at stake if Walker prevailed: not benefits, not ‘rights,’ but the very existence of the unions.
“So they fought and they lost.”
“Norma Rae nostalgia is not enough,” wrote Krauthammer. “In the end, reality prevails. As economist Herb Stein once put it: Something that can’t go on, won’t. These public-sector unions, acting, as FDR had feared, with an inherent conflict of interest regarding their own duties, were devouring the institution they were supposed to serve, rendering state government as economically unsustainable as the collapsing entitlement states of southern Europe.
“It couldn’t go on. Now it won’t.”
“What happened in Wisconsin signals a shift in political mood and assumption,” writes former Reagan speechwriter and New York Times bestselling author Peggy Noonan. “Public employee unions were beaten back and defeated in a state with a long progressive tradition.
“The unions and their allies put everything they had into ‘one of their most aggressive grass-roots campaigns ever,’ as the Washington Post’s Paul Whoriskey and Dan Balz reported in a day-after piece. Fifty thousand volunteers made phone calls and knocked on 1.4 million doors to get out the vote against Gov. Scott Walker.”
But, she notes, “Walker was not crushed. He was buoyed, winning by a solid seven points in a high-turnout race. Governors and local leaders will now have help in controlling budgets. Down the road there will be fewer contracts in which you work for, say, 23 years for a city, then retire with full salary and free health care for the rest of your life—paid for by taxpayers who cannot afford such plans for themselves, and who sometimes have no pension at all.
“Walker didn’t win because of his charm — he’s not charming. It wasn’t because he is compelling on the campaign trail — he’s not, especially. Even his victory speech on that epic night was, except for its opening sentence—’First of all, I want to thank God for his abundant grace,’ which, amazingly enough, seemed to be wholly sincere — meandering, unable to name and put forward what had really happened.
“The single most interesting number in the whole race was 28,785. That is how many dues-paying members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees were left in Wisconsin after Walker allowed them to choose whether union dues would be taken from their paychecks each week.
“Before that, AFSCME had 62,218 dues-paying members in Wisconsin.”
And that was why this election was so important to the unions.