With nearly 55% of the vote, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has become the first governor in US history to survive a recall election. All four Republican state senators targeted for recall also retained their seats June 5. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which won the governorship in 2002 and 2006, and the presidential vote in 2004 and 2008, suffered a humiliating defeat. How could they go so wrong?
1. Recalls. Although the Wisconsin Constitution does not specify any particular grounds for recalling an elected official, there is widespread sentiment that the tactic should only be used to oust crooks. After trying to recall six Republican state senators in 2011 (two of whom lost), the Dems have gone recall-mad in seeking to remove the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and another four state senators on June 5. Apparently, most voters felt that the recall weapon should only be used for cases of truly reprehensible misconduct, not policy differences.
2. Union Power.When Wisconsin granted public employees collective bargaining rights in 1959, union membership and power were at their peak. Today, the biggest union in the state is not UAW, but WEAC, and relatively few private-sector employees belong to a union. The impressive gains made by public employee unions have been at the expense of taxpayers, not stockholders, and the Republicans have correctly perceived that these unions could be used as a scapegoat for the state's fiscal problems with impunity.
3. Timing. The best chance to recall Gov. Walker and the others would have been at the November general election, but the anti-Walker forces just could not wait. The colleges were all closed for the summer, and the findings of the John Doe investigation into Walker's administration as Milwaukee County Executive have not been completed. The timing was not strategic, but impulsive.
4. The contender. Tom Barrett, who had already lost two races for Governor (in 2002 and 2010) was the strongest candidate to run, but not the strongest possible candidate. Russ Feingold, Herb Kohl and David Obey all would have done better than Barrett, but probably could not have won either. The difference was that they were too smart to try.
5. The Jobs Issue. Tom Barrett made the claim that Wisconsin lost jobs under Walker a major issue. When it turned out that the state had actually gained about 33,000 jobs during that period, he was flummoxed. Actually, the gain could have been attributed to President Obama's successful stimulus program, but Walker claimed all the credit for himself. Although Walker had backed and signed plenty of crummy bills, Barrett unwisely chose to dwell on an issue that Walker was able to turn to his advantage.
The failure of these recalls means that the Republicans will hold the governorship through 2014, even if Walker leaves as a result of John Doe charges. Recalls have been proven ineffective, and they won't be used much any time soon.
Tom Barrett is probably through as a candidate for statewide office, though he could be Mayor of Milwaukee as long as he lives.
Mahlon Mitchell, who was little-known until this campaign, has established himself as a serious Democratic candidate by garnering about the same percentage of the vote as Barrett in his race for Lieutenant Governor. This is a man to watch!
Gerald S Glazer