Fueled by union outrage over modest changes in collective bargaining put into play by Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, the Democrat Party and union leaders hand-picked six potentially vulnerable Republican state senators for recall elections. Hanging in the balance was control of the Wisconsin Senate and the future of the entire Scott Walker revolution, which has transformed a $3.6 billion biennial deficit into a $300 million surplus and has pushed most school districts from the red into the black, all while keeping property tax increases to a historical low of 2%.
When the dust settled, the Republicans had won four of the six recall elections and exchanged their 19 to 14 majority in the Senate for a 17 to 16 majority. Republicans Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper lost their elections. Winning easily were Republicans Sen. Robert Cowles, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, and Sen. Luther Olsen. At the epicenter of this recall movement was state Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). She was facing a recall challenge from Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay). It was billed as the election which would tip the scales one way or another.
In 2008, Darling had won her district by a mere 1,007 out of more than 99,000 votes cast. Her district went narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008. As a result, the Democrats spent perhaps more on this single race than in any legislative race in the history of the state of Wisconsin. It was perhaps one of the most expensive state legislative races in the history of the country, with more than $7.9 million spent by both candidates — more than twice the previous record of $3 million. There was more spent on the Alberta Darling/Sandy Pasch race than was spent on the election of Governor Scott Walker last year.
Union activists and employees poured into Wisconsin from out of state. Special interest groups were created and hired large staffs. Unprecedented levels of political advertising were spent by Democrats in the Milwaukee area on the Darling race alone. Republicans were outspent 2 to 1.
After the results were announced, Scott Walker said:
Last November the people of Wisconsin sent a message that they want us to focus on fiscal responsibility and jobs. In our first month in office we balanced a $3.6 billion deficit and our state created 39,000 new jobs.
Vanquished Democrats and union operatives tried to remain upbeat after the losses, but more bad news may be on the way. On Tuesday, August 16, two Democrat senators — Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch — face recall elections themselves. If Republicans win those races, the Senate will be right back where it was before August 9.
Wisconsin can be proud of itself. There is no way to overstate the impact of the Republicans keeping control of the state Senate in these recall elections. History will recall that a new Republican governor and Republican legislature set out to reverse a self-destructive policy of spending and taxation, and an incestuous and costly relationship with the state’s government unions. They received huge political and financial backlash funded by incredibly deep, national union pockets — perhaps more than any other such backlash in state government in history. It has made national news for the last six months.
Tuesday’s recall elections were a national referendum on whether the Republican revolution led by Scott Walker would receive a huge momentum boost or a major setback. Both parties also were testing messaging in anticipation of the upcoming 2012 presidential election, in which Wisconsin will undoubtedly be an important swing state.
The devotion of a massive amount of political cash and manpower was clearly a calculated decision made in the inner sanctum of the Democratic Party and government union organizations. The victory will embolden Republicans in state, local, and perhaps even federal government to implement the clearly effective, common sense fiscal reforms which have so dramatically turned around the financial picture in Wisconsin.
The Republican victories also signal a monumental reversal of national union momentum. Wisconsin has historically been a swing state, leaning Democratic. It has a ready-made public union infrastructure, and unions in Wisconsin are large and powerful with political bases already in place. Its state capital is in a predominantly liberal university city. The Democrat machine felt that Wisconsin was the state where they could step up and stop the assault on collective bargaining — but they couldn’t.
Tuesday’s Republican victories were the last of a trilogy of Republican victories as of late. The state Supreme Court election in April was the first referendum on the Walker revolution. Democrats and unions used all of their money and organizing to use the candidacy of conservative Supreme Court Justice David Prosser as a referendum on Walker, knowing that if they won that election they would control the Supreme Court and could judicially defeat all of Walker’s agenda. They lost. Next, the unions attempted to intimidate a few Republicans to fold under threats of recall. They failed. The Walker proposal was signed into law.
All of this has a profound impact for Wisconsin and for a financially ailing country, still licking its wounds from the embarrassing S&P downgrade of U.S. debt. It is now clear that the national midterm elections of 2010 were the beginning of a grassroots political movement, not merely a temper tantrum of the much-maligned Tea Party. This shift of the American people toward fiscal conservatism is very real, and they are correctly identifying the source of their pain — union bosses, socialists and Marxists who have hijacked today’s Democratic Party. On August 9, the Democrats and unions made their last stand at the Alamo. They lost. Wisconsin taxpayers and America won.