Moment of Truth in Wisconsin

Will the organized Left be too much for Walker?

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.

Why? Ironically, the envy that Democrats are so proficient at promoting may be coming back to bite them: according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state’s median individual income for 2009 was $39,718. The median wage for state employees? $45,599, according to an analysis of data provided by the Department of Administration. When benefits are included? In 2008, total state employee compensation came to $71,000.

Radicalism? Fiscal rationality is more like it. And in a nation bleeding red ink at every level of government, much of it due to union largesse, Walker's chances seem good at this juncture.

As for lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, the latest Marquette Law School poll taken May 23-26 has Kleefisch ahead of Mahlon Mitchell by a five-point margin, 46-41 percent. This is just outside the four percent margin of error, and it has some Republicans worried due to the nature of a recall election, as opposed to a normal one. If Walker and Kleefisch were running together as they would during a normal election, she would have access to the millions of dollars in campaign cash raised by the governor. In this case she does not.

Republicans are further worried that a Walker win and a Kleefisch loss could be part of the Democrats' grand strategy for taking control of Wisconsin. As Wisconsin's CBS 58 News points out, the "lieutenant governor is technically in charge whenever the governor leaves the state. So in theory, if the governor is traveling, his rival could sign bills, issue executive orders or hand out pardons. The governor could undo most actions upon returning, although a pardon is irreversible."

That's the first half of the equation. The second half is a two-year long and ongoing investigation by Democratic Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s office regarding a "private email exchange in the spring of 2010 between Walker and his longtime campaign adviser John Hiller over a potential county real estate contract in which Hiller had a financial stake as deal maker."  The DA is attempting to find out if bid-rigging occurred. Walker states unequivocally the investigation has nothing to do with him. Yet an unnamed advisor to Tom Barrett revealed the cynicism that may indicate the Democrats' ulterior strategy: "I don't see a path to victory, barring additional criminal charges," said the adviser.

Such a strategy is not outside the realm of possibilities. Democrats and their union enablers have tried everything to get their way in Wisconsin. Democratic legislators literally hid out in a neighboring state to prevent passage of the bill limiting union power. After it was passed they got a judge to issue a restraining order. When the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the bill, Democrats tried to unseat Justice David Prosser and tip the balance of the Court. When Prosser defeated challenger Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, she asked for a statewide recount -- the first in 22 years -- despite losing by more than 7,000 votes. Six Republicans were targeted for recall in 2011 in an attempt to take back the state senate. Four won, and the senate stayed Republican.

Wisconsin voters have their destiny in their own hands. If government union supporters are animated enough to go to the polls, the Democrats will have a good day.  If voters like the direction in which the state is currently moving and head to the polls to say so, Walker and Kleefisch will emerge unscathed. If voters want more of the same turmoil they've experienced for the last year-and-a-half, they'll split the ticket.

Four days from now will tell the tale.

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