Looking Good For Walker in Wisconsin

The governor maintains a six-point lead over challenger Tom Barret in the recall election.

In Wisconsin, sitting Republican Governor Scott Walker has opened up a six-point lead over his Democrat rival, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, in the recall election that will take place on June 5th. The election represents the final attempt by Democrats and their union enablers to overturn the results of the 2010 contest that handed Republicans control of both houses in the state legislature, in turn leading to a curtailment of collective bargaining privileges for the state's government unions. For many on both sides of the political divide, this race represents a bellwether indication of where the nation is headed in the general election next November.

Thus, it is unsurprising that plenty of money from both sides has been heading into the state. Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ad spending, tells CNN that nearly $11 million has been spent from the beginning of November through last Monday to run recall television commercials in Wisconsin. Yet there has been much discontent on the progressive side of the ledger, with Wisconsin Democrats infuriated by a Democratic National Committee (DNC) that, up until yesterday, had refused to make a major investment in unseating the incumbent governor. “We are frustrated by the lack of support from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association,” a top Wisconsin Democratic Party official said. “Scott Walker has the full support and backing of the Republican Party and all its tentacles. We are not getting similar support."

That was Monday. On Thursday, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced that the Committee would get involved--sort of. "Enjoyed our conversation, @Barrett4WI. Looking forward to my trip this month to raise money & recruit vols to win back the governor's seat," she tweeted. Yet raising money and recruiting volunteers is not likely to impress a Wisconsin Democrat party that had requested a $500,000 contribution.

In fact, Democrats remain as angry as they were when Republicans were able to push through the bill in March that limited raises for public employees to the rate of inflation (excepting police and firefighters), required employees to pay part of their health insurance and pensions, forced unions to hold new certification votes on an annual basis, and eliminated mandatory dues collection by union leadership. Those proposals led to Democrat legislators literally fleeing the state to avoid voting on them, and engendered massive protests by public union workers and their supporters at the state capitol building in Madison.

Walker claimed such changes were necessary to close the $3 billion budget gap facing the state over the two-year budget plan that took effect last July. Last month he announced that he had saved Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion so far, three quarters of which even the left-leaning Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel was forced to admit could be "verified," while they claimed the additional savings made by local governments could not. Walker's achievements were the result of spending cuts rather than tax increases, including tight limits on local officials' ability to raise property taxes. Walker's opponent, Tom Barrett, was unimpressed. He noted Walker's budget was still $140 million in the red, and that 1,500 teachers had been laid off. "This isn't a record to brag about--it's a record that causes failed governors to be tossed from office," Barrett said in a statement.

Perhaps it already did. Teacher positions were also axed in the last year of Democrat Governor Jim Doyle's term, and it was he and Democrats, who controlled both houses of the legislature during the time the state ran up the $3 billion deficit. It remains for voters to decide on June 5th whether they prefer the party who left them $3 billion in the hole, or the one that has reduced the deficit to $140 million -- and counting.

Walker's purported ineffectiveness in creating jobs has been the main issue Democrats thought they could use against him. The governor was elected in part based on his promise to create 250,000 jobs during his term in office. And up until Wednesday, it seemed like Democrats had a valid point, due to figures taken from monthly employment surveys showing that Wisconsin had lost 33,900 jobs last year, a number that would have ranked it dead last among the 50 states. Yet employment surveys are estimates, not hard numbers.

Reggie Newson, secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development released far more accurate numbers (a move he claims he made on his own, without consulting Walker) from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, produced for inclusion in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' national report. They are based on actual job counts reported by 160,000 Wisconsin employers as required by law. They showed an increase of 23,300 public and private sector jobs last year. Because the official release date of the report was June 28th--long after the recall election--Walker took it upon himself to release them early, for obvious reasons.

Unsurprisingly, Barrett accused Walker of "cooking the books," further contending that, because the numbers were released early, comparisons with other states could not be made. The Democrat Party announced it would file complaints with Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and the state Government Accountability Board, alleging Walker was using state resources to illegally gain advantage for his campaign.

Walker was having none of it. "No matter what you feel about the timing, no matter what you feel about the process, the facts are the facts and facts don't lie," Walker said after speaking at a meeting of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin, in Brookfield. Walker supporters note the new numbers are also buttressed by the unemployment rate dropping to 6.8 percent, and an increase in tax revenues over initial estimates.

Will the revised numbers matter? A new Marquette University Law School poll released the same day shows voters believe Walker would do a better job than Barrett in creating jobs, 48 percent to 41 percent--even as 37 percent said they believed the state lost jobs over the past year, compared with 20 percent who believe there have been job gains. Thus, it likely becomes a question of whether new facts matter more than old impressions.

Yet the most important number of all may be the one reflected in the same Marquette Law School poll conducted from May 9 to May 12 that showed Walker with a six-point edge: it revealed that only three percent of Wisconsin voters remain undecided. Such a small percentage of undecided voters may explain the DNC's reluctance to spend a lot of money in the state. So may the fact that Walker beat Barrett by a similar 52-47 percent margin in the 2010 governor's race. And apparently there is an "enthusiasm gap" as well: 91 percent of Republicans say they are “absolutely certain” they will vote in the recall, compared to only 83 percent of Democrats.

Furthermore, if this race is indeed a referendum on the general election in November as so many contend, the big picture doesn't look good for Democrats either. Two-out of three of the most recent polls show Mitt Romney only one point behind the president in a state Mr. Obama carried by 14 points in 2008.

While progressives are making this a big deal about the "assault" on the collective bargaining power of public service unions in general, there is no doubt about what rankles them the most: the elimination of mandatory dues collection. Big Labor leaders are well aware of the reality that, absent the ability to require dues payments from their members, those members are far less inclined to pay them. Four states that enacted laws either requiring annual re-authorization of dues collection, or the end of automatic deductions, saw massive reductions in dues collections, led by Indiana where a 2005 law ending dues collection led to 90 percent fewer dues-paying members by 2011.

Breitbart reveals the total compensation received by the leaders of unions most actively behind Walker's recall. They include Gerald McEntee of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) at $565,035; John Wilson, head of the National Education Association (NEA) at $492,484; Joseph Hansen, head of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) at $352,758; Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO at $293,750; and Dan Burkhalter, leader of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) at $242,000.

Walker is the most visible threat to that status quo, not Wisconsin public sector workers who, despite all the hysteria, still get raises pegged to inflation, and the overwhelming portion of their health and pension benefits paid for by the taxpayers--all of which yields a median compensation of $71,000 per annum. One that compares quites favorably when measured against the state's median income of $39,718.

So far, the people of that state have refused to cave to union demands. June 5th will reveal how determined they remain.

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