While Democrats had complete control of all levels of state government in Wisconsin heading into the 2010 elections, Republicans rode the national tea party wave and recaptured nearly every prize in the state. Scott Walker won the gubernatorial race, while Republicans took control of the state house and senate from the Democrats. The GOP also gained 2 congressional seats while Ron Johnson defeated Russ Feingold in the US Senate election.
What happens in the 2012 Wisconsin recall elections will say a lot about whether or not the tea party movement is here to stay, or will fade by the time President Obama faces re-election in November 2012. Many have long ago written off the tea partyâs influence in national election, but conservatives argue that the tea party movement is here to stay. So, how did we get to the point where popularly elected political leaders are forced to defend their seats ahead of schedule and what impact will it have in the long run?
Scott Walker Reforms Cause Liberal Backlash
When Republican Scott Walker took office his main goal was to close the stateâs projected budget shortfall. Not uncommon in America today, the bulk of the budget problems arose from a public sector workforce that is way too large, too handsomely paid, and loaded with pensions and benefits that are unsustainable in the long run. Part of Walkerâs Budget Repair Bill was to have public sector employees actually contribute to their own retirement pensions and health benefits in order to reduce costs without having to start laying off state workers.
Of course in the age of entitlements, this was completely unacceptable. For instance, one âatrocityâ would have public sector employees changing their health care contributions from an average of 6% to a whopping 12.6%. Sure, most private sector employees would love to only have to pay a fraction of their health care costs, but not public servants.
The other major complaint of the bill, mostly by the labor leaders, was the elimination of collective bargaining outside of wages. Eliminating collective bargaining also eliminated the power and influence of union bosses and their control over the state and city government organizations. For instance, many public sector entities were forced to purchase their insurance plans from the unions and were not allowed to shop around for the best deal. When collective bargaining was removed, the public sector employers were allowed to seek out more affordable coverage, and they did.
Governor Walker and Senate Recall Elections
Between July and August of 2011, nine recall elections were held for current state senators in an attempt by Democrats, with the financial backing of labor unions, to regain their lost majority in the chamber. Republicans had a net loss of two seats in the nine races, but the Democrats fell short of their goal as Republicans maintained the control of the state senate they originally won back in 2010.
The recall election date of Governor Scott Walker, who will face a rematch with his 2010 opponent, as well as four additional state senators is June 5, 2012. While the Democrats will need only to net one seat to regain control of the senate, polling has indicated that a victory may be hard to come by. In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, the candidate propped by big labor lost out to Tom Barrett, who had originally lost to Walker. Given that the race is an identical rematch from 2010, we will know whether the momentum is still on the conservative side or if it has been scaled back.
Impact on Presidential Election
The recall elections could prove to be an important indicator of where the mood is in the country heading into the presidential election. Many have tried to interpret the tea party surge as a one-and-done fad that would quickly disappear after 2010. But conservatives insist the movement is here to stay, and that the revolution will continue through 2012.
While Barack Obama won Wisconsin by 14 points over John McCain in 2008, victories by Republicans could solidify Wisconsin as a toss-up state and potential pick-up for Mitt Romney. More importantly, it would show that the tea party movement is still alive and well despite a well-funded effort to stop the momentum.
Early signs indicate that the tea party efforts in Wisconsin are holding strong. In the May 8, 2012 recall primary, Scott Walker, who essentially ran unopposed, received nearly as many votes as all of the Democrats running in a hotly contested primary. In fact, Walkerâs 627K votes was more than the top Democratsâ combined 619,000 votes. This is astonishing given that it was not even necessary for Walkerâs supporters to show up at the ballot box at all.