Resounding repudiation of government unions.
On Tuesday, Republican Governor Scott Walker handily defeated Democrat Tom Barrett, and Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch did the same against Democrat Mahlon Mitchell. Both triumphed by nine-point margins amidst heavy voter turnout. Thus, the first state that allowed collective bargaining for government employees beginning in 1959 has come full circle. Walker's victory is a repudiation of government unions that have strained state budgets across the nation, and may mark the first step towards bringing the nation back to fiscal sanity.
Tuesday was not without drama. Democrats accused Walker proponents of cheating, contending that calls were being made telling people if they'd signed the recall, they didn't need to vote. State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) sent a letter to Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy requesting an investigation into "such persons that are committing election fraud and misdemeanor crimes by their individual or group communications." On the other side, an alleged Michigan resident calling himself Mike phoned into WMAL’s The Chris Plante Show claiming that Michigan’s “Democrat Unions” had organized a convoy of 4 buses, filled with Michigan Democrats who intended to illegally vote for Tom Barrett. And according to Election Protection, a D.C.-based voters rights group, hundreds of voters called a hotline to complain about being asked for photo ID even though it wasn't required for this election, and about difficulty voting due to a new 28-day residency requirement in the state.
The days immediately preceding the election were equally colorful. Bernadette Gillick, a University of Minnesota professor, accused Walker of fathering a love child with her college roommate, a woman called "Ruth" to protect her identity. Walker denied the allegation calling it “horrific” and “ridiculous.” More importantly, so did "Ruth" in a subsequent interview with the WCMC. “I can confirm that it was not Scott Walker who is my daughter’s father,” she said. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online "Watchdog" reporter Daniel Bice corroborated the denial, further noting that Ruth believes "Dr. Gillick is mixing up stories." Bice also checked Wisconsin's Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) and discovered "it has taken a family court suit involving Scott Alan Walker and mixed it up with the governor, Scott Kevin Walker." Despite such an obvious debunking, the story remained posted on left-leaning blogs as the latest reason to oust the Governor.
In another telling development, the United States Department of Justice announced Monday that they would be monitoring election returns in the various locales around the country, including the city of Milwaukee, to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Milwaukee is Wisconsin's largest city and Democrats believed a large turnout in the city where Barrett beat Walker by almost 50 points in 2010 would be the key to an upset victory.
Many critics were skeptical regarding the DOJ's seemingly newfound interest in protecting the integrity of the voting process. They cited U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's indifference to two New Black Panther Party members intimidating voters in Philadelphia in 2008, his lawsuits challenging voter ID requirements in Texas and South Carolina despite validation of voter ID by the U.S. Supreme Court, and DOJ's latest attempt to prevent Florida from cleaning up their voter rolls.
But by mid-evening Tuesday, none of the gamesmanship mattered. The margin of Walker's victory was large enough that any attempt to challenge it is doomed to fail.
Ironically, the election may have been the smaller part of a much bigger story. Government unions in Wisconsin have already experienced a precipitous membership fall off after the reforms Mr. Walker and the then-Republican-controlled legislature enacted went in effect. One union in particular, the Wisconsin branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) saw its membership decline by more than half, from 62,818 in March 2011, to 28,745 in February, according to a person who has viewed AFSCME's figures. A small number of that decline was attributed to worker layoffs. Yet it is very likely that reform eliminating automatic dues collection was the critical factor here. And AFSCME was not alone: 6,000 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) 17,000 Wisconsin members quit as well.
Thus, the long-standing idea that union bosses represent the interests of their members has been dealt a severe blow. It is a blow that has national implications as well. The hundreds of millions of dollars union leaders have spent on political campaigns are overwhelmingly amassed from mandatory dues collections. Dues that can no longer be taken for granted in Wisconsin--with more states likely to follow.
A de facto union monopoly was broken in Wisconsin as well. WEA Trust, a health insurance company created by the state’s largest teachers union in 1970, was routinely gouging its members for health insurance, because union contracts insisted that it provide insurance to most of the state's school districts. Prior to reform, coverage for single-employees was $734 for schools with WEA Trust, and $614 for schools that contracted with other companies. Reform eliminated unions' ability to advocate for WEA Trust, allowing schools to contract with other companies. As a result, WEA Trust has been forced to significantly lower its prices to remain competitive. The reduction allowed the Appleton school district to save $3 million per year. Since Wisconsin has hundreds of school districts, hundreds of millions of dollars in savings could eventually be realized. Add to the mix a $3 billion budget deficit that has been eliminated, a dropping unemployment rate now sitting below the national average, and lower property taxes, and it is clear the efforts of Scott Walker and state Republicans who were handed control in the 2010 election have made their mark.
The people of Wisconsin now seem to have validated those reforms as well, and the margin of victory for both Walker and Kleefisch exceeded even the most optimistic polling data in their favor. In addition, all four GOP Senators also facing recalls triumphed over their Democratic opponents -- by large double-digit margins in each case. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) beat Lori Compas (D-Fort Atkinson) in the 13th Senate District; Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) beat Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) in the 21st Senate District; Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) beat Rep. Kristin Dexter (D-Eau Claire) in the 23rd Senate District; and Rep. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) defeated Rep. Donna Seidel (D-Wausau) for Pam Galloway's seat in the 29th Senate District. Galoway opted to quit rather than face a recall election. As a result, the state Senate remains evenly split 16-16.
It will be interesting to see if such a resounding victory at every level carries over to the presidential election in November. Barack Obama won the state handily in 2008. As of now, Wisconsin can no longer be taken for granted by Democrats. Neither can the long-standing and insidious practice of union campaign contributions going to politicians who kowtow to union demands in return.
In other words, for those Americans interested in limited and fiscally responsible government that represents the peoples' interests, Wisconsin is a harbinger of many things to come.
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