Scott Walker

A lot of people heaved a sigh of relief last night when Scott Walker defeated an effort by the unions to recall him as governor of Wisconsin. The recall was about policy only and was an effort to punish him for introducing legislation that stopped the state from collecting public employee union dues and making union membership voluntary. The result has been a 50% or greater decline in union membership as government employees, including teachers, drop union membership and stop paying dues now that it is voluntary.

The recall effort capped an amazing period in which union members occupied the state capitol and spent months in raucous demonstrations and threatening actions toward Republican legislators. In 2010, the Republicans took over both houses of the legislature in the election that saw Walker become governor. Attempts to recall the Republican legislators narrowed the margin the Republicans hold in the state Senate, but seem to have failed again yesterday to change the majority although one seat is still not determined.

Ann Althouse, a law professor and libertarian, has covered the entire affair in great detail on her blog for the past year. The antics of the unions and government employees were amazing. They included teachers either abandoning their students to protest or taking the students to the capitol to participate. Parents were left to scramble for child care. When teachers were threatened with disciplinary action, doctors from the university hospital violated ethics by writing dishonest excuses for teacher absence. There have been some disciplinary actions taken against the doctors.

The significance of the recall frenzy cannot be overestimated. Public employee unions have become tremendously powerful in the past 30 years and their effect on government budgets is ominous. The city of Stockton California has been bankrupted by union salaries and pensions.

The city of Stockton, Calif., took a move closer to filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection late Tuesday night in the face of overwhelming debt.

The City Council, by a 6-to-1 vote, passed a resolution authorizing City Manager Bob Deis to declare Stockton bankruptcy if the city can’t reach an agreement with creditors that prevents insolvency by the time a state mediation process is set to expire June 25, said Stockton spokeswoman Connie Cochran.

The city of 300,000 owes more than $700 million in long-term debt to creditors, and officials there say it faces a budget deficit of $26 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 due to financial problems that also include high retiree costs.

The city in February began negotiating with 19 parties, including retirees, city workers, bondholders and bond insurers under a new California law that requires municipalities to hold mediations before filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

Union allies in the California legislature have attempted to block the city bankruptcy, and to prevent it from canceling union contracts, but the public employee unions also took a beating in the California elections yesterday. Among the lessons of the elections yesterday are warnings for Democrats that the public is growing impatient with public employee unions.

While most of the nation’s attention was focused on Wisconsin’s recall elections, other local governments were taking important steps toward breaking free of public-sector unions, as well. Scott Walker’s victory shows us that, despite all the noise, unions are in decline in traditionally Democrat-leaning Midwestern states. But, in some ways, two local elections in California may portend even bigger things for the reformists.

When you’re looking for public-sector union carnage, there is no better place than California, a solidly Democratic state where pension-plan funding for government employees is more than $500 billion in the red. Gov. Jerry Brown’s tepid 12-point pension reform plan hasn’t gone anywhere in the state legislature, but two of the state’s — and country’s — biggest cities dealt unions major setbacks Tuesday.

In San Diego, payments into the public-employee retirement fund went from $43 million to $231.2 million — or 20 percent of city’s general fund – in little over a decade. So it’s not surprising that two reform proposals easily won over voters.

Eric Erickson summarizes some lessons from the election.

The first thing we can conclude is that defense of public sector unions is now a non-starter even in the birthplace of American progressive politics. Union voters voted for Scott Walker. Republicans have a new battle tested issue that sells well even in blue states.

The second thing we can conclude is that the same winning coalition of disaffected independent voters, tea party activists, and Republicans held together in Wisconsin to keep Scott Walker. More importantly, and perhaps most importantly, the demographic shift that saw the Democrats lose their hold over the rustbelt in 2010 has continued to the Democrats’ disadvantage. Couple that shift away from the Democrats with the Republicans’ new found strengths in Appalachia and the Democrats who like to claim Republicans cannot win in New England will have an even harder time winning in the heartland. Both in North Carolina with gay marriage and in Wisconsin with the recall, a real silent majority stood up to be counted and heard.

For all the Democrats’ talk about their growing strength in the west, it is still going to take several decades for them to make up the votes lost in the rust belt and Appalachia. Wisconsin’s recall election shows that the demographic trends against the Democrats are starting to lock in, including losing blue collar white voters and even a number of private sector union workers. As my friend Dan Gainor pointed out on twitter, Scott Walker won by a larger margin last night than Barack Obama did against John McCain nationally. Nonetheless, some in the media would have you believe Walker only barely got by.

The third thing we can conclude from Wisconsin is that the Republican Party’s use of technology in its GOTV efforts really paid off. We should be thanking the Democrats for giving us an opportunity for a live test of our new GOTV tools and ground game. Scott Walker’s thumping of Tom Barrett showed the GOP, in a blue state, has the ability to pinpoint voters and get their voters to the polls. 2012 will be the first truly technology driven Presidential campaign, run on iPads and iPhones. The Democrats handed the GOP a marvelous gift of a recall that went on and on and on. By the time everyone got to the gubernatorial recall, the GOP had its GOTV tweaked perfectly.

It exceeded expectations.

The fourth thing we can conclude from Wisconsin is that Barack Obama is extremely nervous. He would not campaign for Tom Barrett. Only on election day did he tweet out his support for Barrett in 140 characters. Barack Obama has batted 1000 in seeing those candidates with whom he campaigns for statewide office go down in flames. Despite their bold prognostications that Wisconsin does not matter and all is well and Obama was just too busy, the Democrats know that they poured in a lot of resources only to lose Wisconsin while giving the GOP multiple recall votes to get their GOTV right. It should speak volumes to Democrats everywhere that Bill Clinton was happy to go campaign for Tom Barrett in a state Barack Obama’s campaign considers a swing state, but Barack Obama was not willing to get tied to a loss there. Remember when James Carville said Barack Obama needed to borrow one of Hillary’s . . .

The fifth thing we can conclude is that exit polling does not work well for recall elections. Consider that voters were evenly split going into the polls on whether they supported Scott Walker’s reforms or not. Likewise, roughly two-thirds of voters either were or were related to union members, which was a bit higher than in 2010. The presuppositions were therefore that this would be close. It’s not so much that the exit polling was wrong, as it was that the presuppositions that went into formulating the exits and, more importantly, into interpreting the exit polling was wrong. The presuppositions the media makes headed into November desperately need to be recalibrated. The media is still operating on FDR Coalition presuppositions in their formulation of and analysis of exit polling data.

The sixth thing we can conclude from Wisconsin is that Barack Obama is still the favorite there, but, while I hate to be repetitive, the Democrats’ continued recall efforts have made the state much more competitive for the GOP in that state.

The seventh thing we can conclude from Wisconsin is that MSNBC is consistently the most entertaining news network in America when things go badly for the left. They may think Fox is in the tank for the GOP, but Fox anchors don’t cry when the GOP loses. I was actually concerned that Ed Schultz might have a medical episode on live television last night. It was … surreal. Now I know what MSNBC means by lean forward. I leaned forward as I was viewing, watching for signs of possible coronaries live on TV.

The implications for national elections are immense. The Democratic Party has changed its focus since the 1960s. It is now dependent on a coalition of blacks, public employees and lawyers for its base. It has also added a segment of US society that has issues not supported by the majority but which is prosperous and willing to fund the single issues it supports. Included here are gays (on “gay issues”), environmentalists, including the global warming advocates and those who support social issues like this. An analysis of world views of the left and right show a huge divergence between them.

Of course, the left has attempted to blur the lessonsfrom yesterday’s election. We can only hope they don’t learn anything more. That will help to make the fall election even more decisive if Romney can learn while they don’t.

How much — or little — Walker’s victory tells us about the state of play heading into the fall election remains an open question that won’t be easily answerable for days or even weeks (or months).
What we can answer — or come close to answering — is why Walker won. We put that question to a number of Democratic and Republican strategists in the final days of the recall campaign and, out of those conversations, developed a clear image of what went right for the incumbent — or, as accurately, wrong for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) — that led to tonight’s result.
It’s always important to remember that no win/loss in politics is ever (or, at least, very rarely) attributable to a single factor and so all of the reasons we list below worked together to ensure that Walker won and Barrett didn’t.
* The Democratic primary: To hear those who worked in the trenches of the recall tell it, the fact that Democrats had a contested primary between Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk bears considerable responsibility for Walker’s victory.
Not only did the primary take place less than a month before the general recall election but organized labor spent millions in support of Falk (and against Barrett), spending that many Democrats believe weakened the eventual nominee. Democratic pollsters insisted that Walker was languishing in the early spring but rebounded as Barrett and Falk fought amongst themselves in the primary.
* Money: As of Monday, more than $63 million has been spent on the recall fight with Walker and his conservative allies vastly outspending Barrett and other Democratic-aligned groups.
Walker himself had raised in excess of $30 million for the recall campaign while Barrett collected just under $4 million.
Being outspent 10-1 (or worse) is never a recipe for success in a race. Democrats cried foul over Walker’s exploitation of a loophole that allowed him to collect unlimited contributions prior to the official announcement of the recall in late March. Of course, Democrats also pushed the recall and Walker played by the rules of the game — making what he did strategically smart rather than underhandedly nefarious.

The lesson is obvious but missed, as usual.

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