Tuesday, June 5, 2012

All Over But The Shouting: Wisconsin Recall Edition

UPDATED with final vote counts. Scroll down to UPDATE 2 if you've seen the rest of this article already.

Caption: County by county results for the June 5, 2012 recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Image credit: Screenshot of this interactive map by the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel by Cujo359.

It's all over but for the shouting in Wisconsin:

Gov. Scott Walker became the first governor in the country's history on Tuesday to survive a recall election, besting his 2010 rival in a contest that broke spending records and captured the nation's attention.


The recall race for governor was viewed as crucial nationally, with both sides seeing it as a test of whether politicians could take on unions and survive. Last year, GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich approved a law curtailing collective bargaining that went further than Wisconsin's, but voters there overturned it in a November referendum.

Walker wins recall race over Barrett

What shouting, you ask? In what's becoming a rather monotonous postscript, we once again encountered charges of voter suppression:

With both sides counting on dramatic turnout, Tom Barrett’s campaign is charging Scott Walker supporters with dirty tricks. In an email sent to supporters last night, Barrett for Wisconsin finance director Mary Urbina-McCarthy wrote, “Reports coming into our call center have confirmed that Walker’s allies just launched a massive wave of voter suppression calls to recall petition signers.” According to Urbina-McCarthy, the message of the calls was: “If you signed the recall petition, your job is done and you don’t need to vote on Tuesday.”

Nasty robo-calls in Wisconsin?

Vote suppression seems to have become a favored tactic of the Republican Party recently, and who can blame them? The Democrats aren't going to fight them, and these days, it's hard to motivate people to worry about it when there's so little difference between candidates anyway.

According to CNN, exit polls suggest the final margin of victory will be 52 - 48 for Walker, only two points less than the margin Walker won the state by in 2010.

Speaking of little difference, I have to wonder what was going on in the Democrats' minds when they decided to run the same candidate who lost convincingly to Walker last election. What's more, in an election that was brought about because of the activism of unions, why would they decide to run someone who took pains to declare that he wasn't inclined to support unions. Why have a recall election at all? In an election that was clearly brought about by the unions' concerns about collective bargaining, the geniuses who run the Wisconsin Democratic Party not only picked the guy who lost to Walker last time, but who couldn't be counted on to do anything differently for the people who were most interested in the outcome on the Democratic side.

You almost get the feeling they'd have rather lost than let the unions gain any power over them.

You particularly get that feeling after reading this, via Taylor Marsh:

It brings us back to the only thing left to discuss, which is labor, who desperately depends on the Democratic Party teat, but only for one reason and it’s the same affliction progressives and Democrats have with Pres. Obama. Like the activists who are siding with the elites on behalf of Obama, while complaining about his lack of leadership, they won’t do anything to challenge it directly. Labor and the unions won’t utilize the one tactic that once gave them their power.

“In fact, the only chance that anyone in Wisconsin had was to strike, but the labor leaders and Democrats convinced them to elect Democrats.” – Matt Stoller
That quote from Stoller came in an email conversation, permission to print given. I post it because one question has been running in a loop in my head whenever I ponder the Walker recall and the accompanying drama.

Of Labor And The Scott Walker Recall

Labor unions have been led by people for quite some time now who are happy to just collect their paychecks and go home. This is a big part of the problem they have, because it's become abundantly clear to anyone who is paying attention that Democrats in general, particularly at the national level, or unsympathetic at best, and hostile at worst, to labor's interests. Yet labor unions have refused to stop acting as though the Democrats are their best buddies in the whole world.

What's worse, when people who run things aren't committed to the interests of their rank and file, it makes it hard to persuade that rank and file to do things that they would otherwise not see as being in their best interests in order to make their collective power greater. That's clearly a problem that Wisconsin's unions have, if this bit a New York Times exit poll are to be believed:

Do you or someone in your household belong to a labor union?
Answer (percent of total)Walker (%)Barrett (%)Trivedi (%)
Yes (33%) 38% 62% 1%
No (67%) 61% 39% 0%

Wisconsin Recall Exit Polls: How Different Groups Voted

Thirty-eight percent, more than two a thirds, of people in union houses voted for the candidate who is trying to eliminate their right to bargain collectively. How crazy is that?

During his first two years as governor, Walker cut property taxes. That is bound to be popular with a certain segment of the public. But on the whole, it's hard to understand why so many union household members would vote against their own interests. After all, a better labor environment – being able to maintain or raise wages, in particular, is also a financial winner. But if I were a voter there weighing those competing considerations, I’d really have to have some reason to trust that Barrett and the Democrats were going to bring that about before I’d come to the conclusion voting for them was in my financial best interests. I'd have to think that this thought was on the minds of at least some Wisconsin voters who would be directly affected by losing their right to bargain collectively.

There is also what I think of as the What's The Matter With Kansas? phenomenon, which is that people often vote Republican despite that party's general hostility to working people. Here's another breakdown from that exit poll of how people voted based on how their incomes have changed in the last two years:

Family's financial situation compared to two years ago
Answer (percent of total)Walker (%)Barrett (%)Trivedi (%)
Better (20%) 52% 47% 0%
Worse (36%) 52% 48% 0%
About the same (44%) 53% 46% 1%

Wisconsin Recall Exit Polls: How Different Groups Voted

Wouldn't you think that people who have been losing income in the last few years, which is something that could partly be blamed on Walker's actions, would be less inclined to vote for him? Apparently not. This isn't terribly mysterious, either, if you've been paying attention to anything I've written about the Democrats' handling of the economy in the last few years. It's pretty clear that they no longer give a crap about working people, either. It looks like maybe people have caught onto that.

There are some troubling signs here for both unions and the Democratic Party. What the unions need to be concerned about is that they have been played by the Democrats once again, and they have nothing to show for a lot of work and a lot of money spent.

What should worry the Democrats is, as with the Massachusetts special Senate election in 2010, is that once again we see that people don't feel that they have anything to gain economically by voting for them. This, I think, is the correct view, for reasons I've explained so often that I'll just invite anyone to look at the Democrats keyword and read a few paragraphs. They don't care. They've done nothing to make the economy better for ordinary people, and anyone who has paid any real attention to what's been going on is acutely aware of this.

It should also be pretty clear to voters that the Democrats are going to do nothing for them until something fundamental changes about the relationship between progressives, the unions, and the party. The Democratic Party played the same lousy hand it did in 2010, and got the same result, rather than try a union-friendly candidate. No doubt, as they usually are, they were afraid that the big money wouldn't come if they did that. Unfortunately for them, the big money did come, and it went to Scott Walker. The Republican Governors' Association's contribution to Walker's campaign was larger than Barrett's entire campaign budget. Anyone with the least bit of sense, admittedly a group that doesn't include a lot of progressive voters, would realize that the Democrats will now turn even further to the right, and the unions will be screwed yet again.

Which brings us back to progressives and the unions, and why they never get what they want. They never get what they want because they don't demand it of the party that they are supposedly a part of. Until they do, and until they make that relationship an adversarial one based on rewards earned, there will be no change in the direction of American politics. That's the real, bottom line lesson of Wisconsin. I feel safe in predicting that no union leaders, and damn few progressives, will absorb that lesson.

In short, there really is no good news out of Wisconsin. And, I realize in retrospect, no one should be surprised.

Afterword: This article grew out of discussions I had with various commenters in this comment thread at Taylor Marsh's site. Several links and ideas came out of that thread.

UPDATE (June 6): Taylor Marsh gets the last word for this one line summation of the recall vote that goes along with my closing thought:

Wisconsin was lost before it began.

The Wisconsin Auction
Sadly true.

UPDATE 2: Looks like the margin of loss was almost exactly the same as in 2010. This is the final result from the Journal-Sentinel:

Image credit: Screenshot of this interactive map by the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel by Cujo359.

[Click to enlarge.]

Note the totals at the bottom - Walker by 53 - 46. Barrett lost by almost exactly the same margin he did last time.

UPDATE 3 (Jun 17): Did I write that, really "Thirty-eight percent, more than two thirds"? I've corrected that little error, finally.

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