The recall election hangover blog, 2012 edition

Wednesday was a beautiful day in southwest Wisconsin — crystal clear skies, warm air, low humidity, and a light breeze.

Notice that that’s a meteorological description that has nothing to do with Tuesday’s recall election results. Conservatives did not invent the phrase “the personal is political.” There should be no gloating and no schadenfreude about Tuesday’s results among those who liked Tuesday’s results. It was an election. That’s all. There are many, many more important things in life.

Tuesday’s results were not the wipeout of the November 2010 election, in which Democrats did pretty much as badly as humanly possible. (For review: The governor, state treasurer, and both houses of the Legislature shifted from D to R, or from blue to red.) But Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch survived their recall elections, as did Sens. Scott Fitzgerald (R–Juneau), Terry Moulton (R–Chippewa Falls) and Jerry Petrowski (R–Marathon).

Given that the Wisconsin governor is the most powerful in the nation, when you work to defeat him in a recall election and he wins by a bigger margin (53.1 percent to 46.3 percent) than he won when originally elected (52 percent to 46 percent), that is success by no accepted political definition.

The fact that Sens. Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke lost in 2011 and Sen. Van Wangaard (R–Racine) lost Tuesday (at least in the pre-recount totals) means Democrats spent $23.5 million in 2011 and another $18 million or so this year to take control of the state Senate that is not scheduled to meet the rest of this year. (And I’ve already read a prediction that the 12th Senate District seat currently held by retiring Sen. Jim Holperin (D–Conover) is likely to flip in November. And if I were Sen. Jessica King (D–Oshkosh), I would hold off on 2013 leases on Madison apartments until after Nov. 6.)

The Washington Post’s Charles Lane says a few things those upset about Tuesday’s results will be loath to accept:

Now that Scott Walker has decisively won Wisconsin’s recall election, I wonder if we’ll be hearing any expressions of remorse for the smears, false rumors and general vilification that his opponents have hurled at him over the last year and a half.

Will there be apologies from those who toted posters depicting him as Hitler? Any second thoughts from, say, Conor Oberst, the leader of Bright Eyes, the indie rock band, who called Walker a “fucking Nazi,” and urged his audience to “every day egg his fucking house.” …

Now that Walker has been freely and peacefully elected — again — does Harold Meyerson regret writing that Walker’s policies represented “a throwback to 19th-century America, when strikes were suppressed by force of arms. Or, come to think of it, to Mubarak’s Egypt or communist Poland and East Germany.” How about Katrina vanden Heuvel? She, too, pushed the Cairo analogy, asserting that the fight in Wisconsin was “about basic democratic rights and the balance of power in America.”

This rhetoric wasn’t just hyperbolic. It was strategically suicidal. The unions and their various apologists whipped progressive Wisconsin into such a frenzy — falsely claiming, for example, that Walker was about to unleash the National Guard — that the anti-Walker forces could no longer perceive political reality. …

It turns out that noisy demonstrations, swollen by such people’s tribunes as the University of Wisconsin teaching assistants union, do not represent public opinion in the state as a whole. The purported tyrant of Madison actually enjoyed the support of a solid majority of Wisconsinites — just as he did in November 2010, when he was first elected. The unions’ claim to represent the “people” and the “middle class” stands exposed as propaganda. Even a third of voters who live in union-member households backed Walker.

But Walker bought the election with corporate money from out of state! Of all the excuses being offered today, this is the most pathetic. Of course Walker exploited existing state campaign-finance law to raise as much money as possible wherever he could. What the heck did his opponents expect him to do? Unilaterally disarm?

The unions and Wisconsin Democrats knew the rules. If they didn’t want Walker to bring a financial gun to their knife fight, they shouldn’t have started it in the first place.

But Walker’s critics were right about one thing: democracy was at issue in this struggle. What they got wrong is which side was actually upholding democratic values.

Collective bargaining is appropriate in the private sector, where the market acts as a check on unsustainable pay and benefits.

But in the public sector, where government faces no competition, and can levy taxes to pay for labor contracts, collective bargaining is inherently undemocratic.

Union money and manpower confer political clout, which unions use to, in effect, elect their own bosses. Behind closed doors, they then decide how much the public will have to pay for education, transportation, and other services. They call it “collective bargaining,” but the unions are represented on both sides of the table.

Walker’s reforms ended that. Now, elected officials across the state can actually set work rules and pay rates with their constituents’ interests as the clear top priority.

In short, government in Wisconsin is now not only sounder fiscally than it was pre-Walker, but also more accountable and transparent. Politicians can use resources for parks, libraries, schools and roads instead of perks for politically connected unions.

The progressives who are mourning Walker’s win should be celebrating instead.

The self-styled successors of Fighting Bob La Follette will feel sick after reading this from the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne:

The left will make a big mistake if it ignores the lessons of the failed recall in Wisconsin of Gov. Scott Walker (R). The right will make an even bigger error if it allows the Wisconsin results to feed its inclination toward winner-take-all politics.

The danger on the right is greater because winning an epic fight is a heady experience and conservatives can claim a real victory here. Walker didn’t just win. He won decisively. And it turns out that a majority of Wisconsin voters — including many who voted against Walker — simply didn’t like the idea of a recall.

Perhaps the most significant exit poll finding was this one: Only about a quarter of those who went to the polls Tuesday said that a recall was appropriate for any reason. Roughly six in 10 said a recall should be used only in the case of official misconduct. And another tenth thought a recall was never appropriate. Most voters, in other words, rejected the very premise of the election in which they were casting ballots.

I’m not sure which of these stories will make your eyes roll more, this from The Capital Times

“Democracy’s dead,” bellowed Mike Daly, a 39-year-old stay-at-home dad as he barged into a live feed from the scene by CNN reporter Ted Rowlands.

Daly got his interview on CNN, then explained that he was distraught because his two daughters, 1 and 4, will never live in a society where corporations don’t run the show.

“For the first time in my life, I don’t want to live here anymore,” he said. “It’s all about the money now.” …

“It’s so sad, I’m speechless,” said Brynna Otterson, a 22-year-old Winona State University student who hails from Verona.

Around her, the crowd looked stunned and dejected as a single funereal drumbeat hung in the air. …

But even as the crowd chanted, Barrett was conceding the race. And when word of that dawned on the collective consciousness, the pent-up frustrations of the crowd came out.

“He gave up on us!” one woman yelled.

… or this from CNN (via Yahoo):

“This was it. If we didn’t win tonight, the end of the USA as we know it just happened. That’s it.”

To use the present vernacular: Really? Are the November elections being canceled? Did Walker declare martial law and I somehow missed it yesterday? Politics is a zero-sum game (one side wins, the other loses), but it’s also a game that gets played every two years with new chances for victory. With all due respect to those whose political views differ from mine (which is more respect than I have recently experienced from those whose views differ from mine), if the above two quotes reflect your views of Tuesday, you need to reconsider your personal priorities. (No, I would  not have been acting like this had the results been different Tuesday.)

The recall was not only illegitimate in that nothing Walker nor Kleefisch did (contrary to the claims of the political ads) warranted his recall. It also generated one of the most intellectually empty-headed and cynical campaigns in the history of this state.

What did Tom Barrett run on? A better plan for state fiscal responsibility? Not until his “put state government on a diet” theme he remembered he had back in 2010 and blew the dust off of in the final few days of the campaign. The supposed corruption of the Walker administration? Didn’t stick, did it? What a great job he’s done as Milwaukee’s mayor? Ditto. Improving the state’s economy? Dead silence. Government-employee collective bargaining rights? Find anywhere Barrett used the words “collective bargaining.” Unifying our divided state? I don’t recall Democrats being particularly interested in unity during the 2009–10 Legislature, whose gross incompetence led to the November 2010 election results.

The effect of a single election is usually overstated. The 2008 elections were supposed to have killed off the Republican Party. It took less than two years — Scott Brown’s succeeding Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts — to prove that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the GOP’s death were greatly exaggerated.

I therefore don’t put a lot of stock into the idea that this is a bad harbinger for President Obama Nov. 6. This is a state that has voted for the Democrat in the presidential election every quadrennium since 1988, whether he wins (Bill Clinton and Obama) or loses (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush).

There are two reasons Tuesday may be a bad omen for Obama, however. First, the millions of dollars spent by Democrats and their supporters to topple Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch are dollars that cannot be spent on Obama’s campaign. (Or the campaigns of U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin, or the campaigns of the eventual Democratic opponents for freshman Reps. Sean Duffy (R–Ashland) and Reid Ribble (R–Sherwood), or for Democratic candidates for the state Senate or Assembly.)

Second, hardcore Democrats voted for Barrett and hardcore Republicans voted for Walker. (Duh.) I’m guessing, though, that more Republican-leaning voters voted for Barrett over opposition to the public employee collective bargaining reforms (probably government employees who had smaller paychecks) than Democratic-leaning voters voted for Walker because they thought the recall was illegitimate. The argument against that is the fact that Walker’s margin of victory was larger Tuesday than it was in November 2010, which indicates that more people who voted for Barrett in 2010 voted for Walker Tuesday than the reverse. So, to quote Tuesday Morning Quarterback, all predictions inaccurate, or your money back.

There is something going on, though, beyond Tuesday, as MSNBC’s Michael O’Brien notices:

The campaign drew national headlines because of its implications for unions, but the stakes were equally high for a new generation of reform-minded conservatives. Walker and Rep. Paul Ryan, also of Wisconsin, represent the vanguard of this wave of Republicans, underscoring the extent to which the state has become a deep bench for emerging GOP leaders.

“We’re a state that’s produced a lot of great leaders, Paul and Scott being good examples of those,” said Ray Boland, a former state veterans affairs official in Wisconsin in attendance at a Walker campaign event on Monday. Boland is hoping to join this class of Republicans this fall; he’s running for Congress as a Republican against veteran Democratic Rep. Ron Kind.

Wisconsin has produced some of the GOP’s most visible leaders in recent years — Walker, Ryan and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. This troika all grew up in the state’s southeast corner, and cut their political teeth in the post-Reagan era of the GOP.

They’re unified not just by common roots, but a similar approach to politics.

This generation of Republicans, Priebus said last week in an interview with NBCPolitics.com, are “down-to-earth relatable people that, if they have to grab a weapon and run up the hill, they will.” …

To be sure, these Republicans have attracted intense support and opposition. Ryan and Walker don’t adopt the most strident rhetoric, relative to many other conservatives. But their aw-shucks approach to politics belies the exceptionally aggressive reforms they’re willing to pursue in hopes of cutting deficits. …

That message has particular traction during this age of austerity, when concern about mounting public debt has become one of the top political issues.

“Mounting public debt” should be a concern both parties should address. Those who criticized Walker because the state budget is legally, not factually, balanced had and have a point. I will be the first blogger in this state to support the Democratic proposal to change state law to require balancing the state budget by the same standard upon which every other unit of government is required to balance its books, Generally Accepted Accounting Practices. (Sen. King? Sen.-elect Lehman? Hello?)

The 0ther reason Republicans should feel optimistic about November is that Tuesday was a validation of sorts of the 2010 election. A trend by definition needs to last more than one election cycle. It is rare in this state to see one party controlling state government for just one election cycle. In my lifetime, Wisconsin has had:
1965–66: Republicans controlled the Senate, Democrats controlled the Assembly.
1967–70: Republicans controlled both houses.
1971–74: Democrats controlled the Senate, Republicans controlled the Assembly.
1975–93: Democrats controlled both houses.
1994: Republicans controlled the Senate after special elections, Democrats controlled the Assembly.
1995: Republicans controlled both houses.
1996–97: Democrats controlled the Senate after the George Petak recall, Republicans controlled the Assembly.
1998: Republicans controlled both houses.
1999–2002: Democrats controlled the Senate, Republicans controlled the Assembly.
2003–06: Republicans controlled both houses.
2007–08: Democrats controlled the Senate, Republicans controlled the Assembly.
2009–10: Democrats controlled both houses.
2011–12: Republicans controlled both houses.
History suggests that Sen. Mark Miller (D–Monona) should hold off on moving his office in the state Capitol just yet. For one thing, Senate and Assembly seats for the 2012 election were drawn by the Legislature in 2011. Note the last line in the list.

It should be obvious, but I’m guessing it’s not to them, that the Wisconsin Democratic Party really needs to rethink itself, beginning at the very top. (Do I mean party chair or top-of-the-ballot candidate? Yes. This may not be a good sign for Baldwin either, given that she seems unlikely to generate much support outside the Second and Fourth and possibly parts of the Third Congressional districts.1) The top two choices in the recall primary were two two-time statewide election losers. The only thing Barrett gained over Kathleen Falk is that he is now a three-time statewide loser. The Capital Times’ Jack Craver will probably be shunned in Madison for writing this:

While there was clearly a sizable group of independents and Democratic-leaning voters who voted for Walker because they disapproved of the recall process, the results in the Senate races show there was also a small group that might have supported the gubernatorial recall if Democrats had put up a different candidate.

Maybe a candidate from outside of Milwaukee or Madison?

Maybe a candidate non-liberals could vote for?

I am, by the way, under no illusions that the vast divide of our state’s politics will magically fill itself and that we go back to a previous day of not particularly caring about what the politicians do. That is the fault of both parties, which have inserted themselves into our lives in areas government does not belong. Government takes too much of my money, and regulates things of my life that it should not be regulating. (For instance, whether I wear a seat belt while driving.) Everything wrong with campaigns today traces back to this: the stakes in elections are too high because government does too much regardless of which party is in power.

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One thought on “The recall election hangover blog, 2012 edition

  1. Pingback: The Presteblog | One year ago, and one year later

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