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If a new poll taken by Democrats is accurate, the recall race in Wisconsin is closer than the conventional wisdom indicates. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake contends that Republican Governor Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, are now tied at 49 percent. The election takes place on June 5th and many believe it is a bellwether indicator of national sentiment going into the general election in November. By challenging the power of government unions in that state, Walker has become a lightning rod for leftist animosity. Yet perhaps just as important is the race between sitting Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin president, Democrat Mahlon Mitchell. That race has always been close. Thus, the possibility exists that Wisconsin could end up with an ideological split in the state’s top two offices.
With respect to Walker, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus believes the governor will win and that the victory will have national implications. Priebus cited a number of factors for his confidence, noting “an electorate that earlier than normal is making up its mind,” “where we’re sitting right now on absentee ballots,” and the idea that focus groups indicate a “decent amount” of Democrats “think that this recall stuff is out of control.” He further contended that a Walker victory would send a signal that “it’s time to stop spending more money than we have.”
The national implications? Priebus said that “if Wisconsin goes red (in the recall election), I think it’s lights out for Barack Obama.” That may be overly optimistic. Wisconsin hasn’t voted Republican at the presidential level since 1984. Yet Wisconsin did flip both houses of the legislature and the governorship from Democrat to Republican in 2010. Whether that enthusiasm for Republicans — or disdain for Democrats — is still relevant in November remains to be seen.
Democrat National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sounded far less confident. “It’s an election that’s based in Wisconsin. It’s an election that I think is important nationally because Scott Walker is an example of how extreme the tea party has been when it comes to the policies that they have pushed the Republicans to adopt,” Wasserman Schultz said. “But I think it’ll be, at the end of the day, a Wisconsin-based election, and like I said, across the rest of the country and including in Wisconsin, President Obama is ahead.”
The “extreme tea party policies” to which Wasserman Schultz refers? With respect to Wisconsin, the legislature passed a bill that makes most government union workers pay marginally more of their own health insurance and pension costs. It limits collective bargaining to base wages and ties wage increases to the inflation rate. It requires unions to hold re-certification votes on an annual basis. And in a move that directly threatens the status quo of union leaders’ political clout, it makes the payment of union dues voluntary, not mandatory.
This is where Wasserman Schultz’s argument breaks down. If the elimination of mandatory dues is “radical,” it stands to reason that most, if not all, union members would continue to pay them, for “solidarity sake” if nothing else. Yet in states where mandatory dues have been eliminated, reductions in dues collections have plummeted by 70-90 percent. This in turn limits government unions’ ability to get candidates elected via massive campaign contributions. Candidates who are then beholden to the same unions with whom they “negotiate” wage and benefit packages — ostensibly on behalf of taxpayers who, in Wisconsin at least, may be on the verge of ending this particular arrangement.
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