Despite an unprecedented recall effort to flip control of the Wisconsin state Senate, Democrats failed to take the three seats necessary to gain a majority. Even after $30 million in union and allied group spending, only two Republicans lost their recall elections.
Of the two, one Republican resided in a district that Obama carried by 20 points in 2008 and the other had recently been in the local media spotlight for abandoning his wife and moving in with his 25 year old girlfriend.
The six Republican senators faced a recall effort after supporting Republican Governor Scott Walker’s state budget repair bill, which removed some of the collective bargaining rights enjoyed by public employee unions in the state (By comparison North Carolina does not officially recognize public sector unions). Union supporters responded with a series of massive rallies which swarmed the state capitol building for weeks, while 14 Democratic state senators fled the state in an effort to deny the quorum needed to pass most legislation. Once the bill passed, Democrats began efforts to gain control of the state Supreme Court and initiate recall elections against Republican legislators.
Incumbent justice David Prosser narrowly won his statewide race against a liberal challenger in April, keeping the conservative majority on the court in place (and protecting the new collective bargaining law from challenges). The attention then shifted to recall efforts in the state Senate. Four Republicans and one Democrat have survived the recall efforts, with two more Democrats facing a recall vote next week.
Their lack of success may dissuade union supporters and state Democrats from potential recall efforts against Gov. Scott Walker. Experts estimate that race may cost up to five times as much as last night’s recall election – a staggering amount of resources with no guarantee of success for recall supporters. The efforts would also have to wait until 2012, giving the collective bargaining reforms even more time to succeed. The law has already saved local governments millions in labor costs and preserved thousands of jobs from layoffs in the state.
It is difficult to draw national implications from an extremely local race, but the failure of union efforts in Wisconsin does suggest that voters may be forgiving of tough budget decisions in state capitals around the country.