One year ago, our long statewide nightmare ended when Gov. Scott Walker won his recall election.
Except that it really didn’t end, because even after the 2011 Supreme Court election, the first two waves of recall elections and the gubernatorial recall, we Wisconsinites had to endure another five months of politics before the November 2012 election ended elections for 2012. And then we had to hold our nose for another Supreme Court election held April 2.
I was asked by Right Wisconsin for my thoughts on what I called Recallarama and it calls the “permaprotests.” Consider this a longer version of the 100 or so words I was asked to contribute (without foul language).
One question I was asked was whether I’d be celebrating the one-year anniversary. No, I’m not. I didn’t celebrate Walker’s winning. I went to work the next day. I’m going to work today. Politics is a game that never ends, therefore there are no permanent winners. (Although voters and taxpayers could be said to be permanent losers.)
My first thought is that I am honestly surprised no one — protester accidentally, or elected official deliberately — was killed during Recallarama. I actually predicted someone would be killed, partly because of the depths to which political discourse has been degraded in this country, and in part because, well, that’s the People’s Republic of Madison for you. The protests were at an unprecedented (for this state, anyway) level of nastiness, exceeded only by the UW–Madison Vietnam War protests.
First question: What did we learn, before and since?
We learned that Gov. Gaylord Nelson made a stupid decision in 1958 when he granted state employees collective bargaining. (Collective bargaining basically means (1) you cannot stand up for yourself in dealing with your employer and (2) you are an interchangeable part.)
We learned which Wisconsin journalists didn’t know that the open records law applies to signing recall petitions. (Ditto circuit judges and assistant district attorneys, whose impartiality is forever in question.)
We also learned that there are some Wisconsinites who lack the manners to keep their mouths shut. Where I live, based on yard signs you would have thought Walker had no chance of winning. And yet, Walker did. A lot of the 54 percent of voters who voted for Walker fit into two possibly overlapping categories — people who prefer their votes to speak for them, and people who didn’t necessarily like Walker, but believed that legislation with which they disagreed was not grounds for a recall.
There is no question that the public opinion of government employees dropped considerably in the past two years. Not every public employee is a union stooge — some even vote for Walker and other Republicans once in a while — but since stereotyping is a human tendency, it is largely their own fault if voters and taxpayers look at their work more critically and skeptically. Many voters perceived a holier-than-thou attitude that public employees are more important than mere voters and taxpayers. That came from their union puppeteers, but again, guilt by association is a human trait.
Newspapers lost subscriptions because the newspaper dared to take an editorial stand. (Which says more about those who can’t views contrary to theirs enter their brains than those newspapers.) Friendships were strained, and in some cases ended, particularly online friendships. (Which should call into question how strong the friendship was in the first place.) Even family relationships were stressed, which makes you wonder how many people realize what’s truly important in life. If politics is one of the top five most important things in your life, you need to get an actual life.
We witnessed the absolute contempt liberals have for conservatives in this state. Conservatives, not liberals, were bullied into silence in everyday conversations that dared veer toward political topics. Businesses were harassed for their owners’ and employees’ daring to exercise their First Amendment rights. (On the other hand, Kwik Trip, Johnsonville Sausage and Menards have more customers now.)
Some would argue that the sturm und drang was the logical result of government’s taking money out of public employees’ pockets through Act 10. Which means that public employees now are required to pay less of their salaries for their benefits than the people whose taxes pay those salaries and for those benefits. As for the alleged tradeoff of lower salaries for better benefits: The average yearly personal income in Wisconsin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 was $27,915. How many government employees do you know who make that little?
Some would also argue the lack of job creation in this state is the direct result of Act 10. To believe that, you have to believe that this state’s economy is powered solely on discretionary spending of government employees. (Remember: No government employee was laid off as a result of Act 10.) The state’s economy is what it is because of what Barack Obama has done to the national economy, and because the GOP has done nothing to undo decades of bad policy, particularly in state and local taxes. (More on that later.)
Second question: How did this work out for the Democrats?
After the November 2010 elections, Wisconsin had a Republican governor, Republicans controlled both houses of the state Legislature, the state had one Democratic senator and one Republican senator (elect), and five of the state’s House of Representatives were held by Republicans.
After Recallarama’s 2011 and 2012 editions, including the recall election one year ago today, and the November 2012 elections, Wisconsin had a Republican governor, Republicans controlled both houses of the state Legislature, the state had one Democratic senator (elect) and one Republican senator, and five of the state’s House of Representatives were held by Republicans.
So what was accomplished? Democrats got rid of two Republican state senators, Dan Kapanke of La Crosse and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac. (Hopper’s loss was more an example of political suicide.) Hopper was replaced by Democrat Jessica King of Oshkosh, who was in office long enough to lose to Republican Rick Gudex of Fond du Lac. Republicans, meanwhile, replaced the retiring Sen. James Holperin (D–Conover) with Sen. Tom Tiffany (R–Hazelhurst). Net gain: Zero, a good description as well of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s “leadership.”
Democrats would claim that Recallarama energized the party and got people politically involved, blah blah blah. They still lost. They deserved to lose. They were 100 percent in the wrong.
Third question: How did this work out for those of a conservative political orientation?
Legislatively, not much beyond Act 10 and causing a dramatic drop in public employee union membership, along with the separate issue of finally allowing concealed-carry, as 48 other states allowed before Wisconsin. Of course, politics is not only about accomplishing what you want to do, but preventing your opponents from accomplishing what they want to do. (Read this if you think the November 2010 and recall elections didn’t matter at all.)
The $2.2 billion in tax increases enacted by the Doyle administration are largely all still in place. The state budget is legally, not factually (as in by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), balanced. Government is still far, far too large and does far, far too much. School choice is still limited to Milwaukee. The state still is spending tens of millions of dollars every year to take land off the tax rolls, generating billions of dollars in debt. The process has not begun (which means it won’t) to enact permanent (as in constitutional) controls on taxes and government spending. At least some Republicans are starting to notice.
The fact that should have been clear well before now is that politicians are interested principally in their own careers. I’m not sure when after Nov. 6 Walker and Republicans lost their nerve, but all the people who worked for Walker’s win in the recall election and for Republicans in 2010 and 2012 have the right to be more than a little disappointed.
Final question: Now what?
I predict that the way political campaigns are conducted in this state is permanently scarred, but not just because of Recallarama. We’ll know that after the November 2014 elections, except that the nastiness will ramp up again merely because Walker will be running for reelection. Walker has now reached the level of George W. Bush and before him Ronald Reagan in the unique ability of the mild-mannered Walker (unlike his haters, I have actually met him) to drive liberals to states of frothing rage. I do not think Walker or any other Wisconsinite will ever become president, but I enjoy talking about Walker’s presidential prospects because it makes Democrats absolutely unhinged.
I conclude with this brilliant observation I made one year ago: I am 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.
Republicans maintained what they had, Democrats failed to gain anything between the legitimate 2010 and 2012 elections, and Wisconsinites with sense learned to hate politics and politicians. If you ever wondered if government and politics play an outsized role in our lives, Recallarama proved it.