What You Don’t Know About The Folly Of The Recall

If you happened to watch the election returns from Wisconsin on MSNBC Tuesday night, and if you’re honest, you know it was a rough night for progressives. It started to be noticeable on Monday when Ed Schultz (or “Big Eddy” as he likes to call himself), started to have a haunted look. He was out there in Madison surrounded by Union types who would cheer, or boo, or moo on cue, but despite his bluster, you just knew things weren’t shaping up the way he’d hoped.

Ed kept going on about how the evil Republicans had poured in all this money, but the recall forces had the enthusiasm and the ground game.

Eddie may have trouble differentiating between enthusiasm and desperation. What he didn’t explain is that after all the sound and fury of the recall effort, his team actually lost ground in each of the six special elections this week..

The numbers are still a little hazy, but it appears that the two sides spent around $35 million on the recall, all in an effort to punish Republican State Senators who voted for  the Budget Repair Bill Governor Walker introduced  in February.  This controversial legislation was crafted to cure a $3.6 state billion deficit, and required state employees to contribute 12.6% of the cost of their health insurance premiums and pay 5.8% of their salary into the Wisconsin Retirement System, ending the free ride they’d enjoyed previously. The other two most significant impacts were to limit collective bargaining rights for most public employees and to prohibit employers from collecting union dues.

The result was a political tantrum unlike anything seen in years.  For weeks, protests in Madison the state capital dominated cable news shows with their distinct lack of civility.  All 14 Democrat Senators fled the state to try to prevent a vote, demonstrators mobbed and camped out at and in the Capital building, Republican lawmakers were stalked at their homes, and local businesses were threatened if they did not join the effort to foil the Governor’s legislation.

“We will not be bullied by Governor Walker’s unfair attempt to attack workers and take away our rights,”  Ron Biendseil of the left wing group Democracy For America said in early March.  “And if the Republicans go along with Walker, they will be looking for new jobs sooner than they think.”

Alas, all that bluster was for naught. On March 9, Wisconsin Republicans held a joint Assembly-Senate committee meeting to discuss quorum requirements for the bill and removed sections related to spending, thus allowing the vote to go forward without a quorum in the Senate. Scorned and stung, the unions and “progressives” vowed revenge.

Their first tactic was to try to vote down conservative Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in a scheduled election April 5th.  Described as a “de facto referendum on the power of public employee unions”  by the Wall Street Journalestimates of the totals spent on that election topped $3.5 million.  Despite this furious effort by the left and a nasty campaign, Prosser won reelection by a slim margin and was in place when the bill came up for judicial review  in June.  As expected, the Court ruled in favour of the Governor by a 4-3 margin.

Still smarting, the unions and the left raised the ante by making good on their threats to recall Republican state senators.  This idea had first been floated in February, and in March the Daily Kos commissioned their pollster, Public Policy Polling (PPP) to evaluate the voter’s appetite for recall. Their result are shown below:


Results of March Daily Kos pollingInterestingly, even by their own reckoning, at the height of the left’s rage over Walker’s plan the enthusiasm for recalling these representatives was mild.  The data highlighted in green represented trouble for the challenger: these were incumbents that could be expected to hold their seats. Only the yellow highlights showed races where the challenger seemed to have an edge.

These results hardly seemed to be a mandate by an enraged electorate. This is what democracy looks like?

No matter. Since the left usually feels that they know best (eat your peas!), they geared up, secured the petition signatures necessary to launch the recall, and went to work. What’s interesting is that although the original rationale for the recall was to protest and plot the repeal of the bill eliminating collective bargaining for public employees under the guise of “workers rights”,  little was heard on that issue as the election drew closer. Instead,  Democrats tried to convince voters that Walker and the Republicans had harmed the state by cutting school budgets and providing tax breaks to businesses and investors.

It was a difficult message to put across. School boards across the state were reporting that the promised savings were real.  In June, the Kaukauna WI school district’s outlook changed from a projected $400,000 shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus as a result of health care and retirement savings. In fact, the Appleton Post-Crescent, quoted  School Board President Todd Arnoldussen who said “These impacts will allow the district to hire additional teachers (and) reduce projected class sizes.”

Milwaukee Public Radio found that “The children who come to school in Brown Deer (school district) next year are not going to see higher class sizes. We didn’t cut art, music, library, gym, computers – all of those things are in tact,” says Emily Koczela, Director of Finance for the Brown Deer school district.

But in Milwaukee, Channel 6 reported that the school board cut a deal with the teachers before Walker was elected and is now stuck with an $82 million budget deficit, which will lead to massive layoffs. Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton asked the Union to have their members contribute 5.8% of their salary towards their pension which is now the state standard, a concession that would save the jobs of 200 teachers. The union turned him down flat.

By and large, voters understand what’s happening.  The real rage is from the privileged class of government union workers who continue to have the attitude that they’ve got theirs, and they intend to keep it even if it bankrupts the state and kills the golden goose.

This is the inevitable result of collective bargaining for public employees. It was that progressive saint, Franklin Roosevelt who said “Meticulous attention should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government….The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.”

Unlike labour relations in private enterprise, when public employee unions are allowed to bargain collectively they inevitably use the electoral process to try to elect and control their own superiors. The result is that they effectively bargain with themselves. Just imagine if the person you had to ask for a raise… was yourself.

So what was the final result? The Democrats and the Unions lost ground! Compare the March projections above with the actual results from Tuesday’s election.


Although the Dems did take two seats, they failed in their effort to take control of the Senate and in every case, the incumbents improved their standing.  This after armies of outside paid and volunteer organisers flooded the zone during the petition effort and the campaign itself and after spending tens of millions of dollars. What’s Delicious is that there are two more recall votes scheduled for next Tuesday in districts held by Democrats, and at least one of those appears to be in play A loss in either will only prolong the Democrat’s agony and humiliation.

All together, a total of 350,00 votes were cast in all six elections. This means that the spend per vote cast was approximately $100, all in.

And there are other costs.  The totals are not in yet, but in May the website Wisconsin Reporter ran a story headlined “County clerks reeling from costs of recall”. In a time of austerity, this act of selfishness masquerading as a fight for “working families” served only the interests of a small elite without regard to collateral damage.

There was one other big loser that night. The left is already grumbling about the silence from the White House. In a piece in the Huffington Post Peter Dreir points out that

“had Obama gone to Wisconsin and campaigned for Democrats, or even made a few public statements endorsing the Democrats seeking to unseat six of Walker’s right-wing state Senate allies, the liberal Democrats might have turned a narrow defeat into a spectacular unprecedented victory.”

Maybe. Maybe not. Professor Dreir may not be aware, but Obama’s credibility is lower by the day. A visible boost from the White House might have only made things worse, but that won’t sooth the raging disquiet rising on the left.

What’s next?  Why, another recall effort, most likely. Walker has protection under state law from such an effort for his first year in office, but the sore loser party is already making noise about launching that recall after January 2012.  Similar efforts are being plotted for Michigan, Ohio and other states.

They may win a few battles, but they’ll lose the war.  The public is awake to the fact that this is just an effort to maintain special privilege for a protected class.  They’ll burn up money, enthusiasm and good will, all for a losing cause that voters will reject in ever larger numbers.

In 1980, when his presidential campaign came to an end at the Democrat Convention in new York, Senator Ted Kennedy said “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

2010 is a different world, and the language of politics has changed. In the spirit of the Obama era, broadcast professional Al Sharpton summed it up best on MSNBC.

“Resist we much. We must, and we will much, about that be committed.”