The Republicans won another major victory in Wisconsin yesterday.
Wisconsin is historically one of the most progressive states, as blue as they come - a bulwark of the Democratic Party. Both Al Gore and John Kerry beat Bush in Wisconsin, albeit it narrowly. The strength of the Democratic Party is centered in Milwaukee, Madison and the large unionized workforce.
The 2010 mid-term elections led to a Republican landslide nationally. The Republicans won the House and gained substantially in the Senate.
The real landslide though was at the state level. Republicans won a record number of state legislators and gained many governorships. 20 legislative chambers flipped from Democratic to Republican. The sweep was most apparent in the Midwest, where the Republicans gained control of the legislatures and governorships in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as Pennsylvania. They won control of the legislature, but barely lost the governorship in Minnesota. Illinois remained Democratic, and the Democrats barely hung onto the Senate in Iowa.
Just as the Democrats in 2008 used their victory to ram legislation through Congress, the newly Red states took the opportunity to curb the power of the public sector unions.
Governor Scott Walker led the way in Wisconsin. His measure was billed as an attempt to rein in a $3.6 billion budget gap by curbing collective bargaining tights of public employees and requiring them to pay a greater share of their pensions and healthcare premiums, but it was union busting in reality.
It wasn’t union busting in the traditional sense of breaking the union, but union busting in the sense of emasculating their political powers. No longer will public employees be required to pay dues to the union, which dues in turn will be funneled to Democratic candidates.
The unions could still turn out their vote, but might no longer be the bank for the Democrats. Governor Walker was driving a stake into the financial heart of the Democratic-union alliance.
Hence, the substantial, at times violent, opposition to the legislation.
The unions responded by filing a lawsuit to enjoin the legislation. A friendly judge in Madison enjoined the statute. The ultimate decision would be by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which was divided 4:3 with a conservative majority.
The next step of the unions was to fight the reelection of conservative Judge David Prosser to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The campaign was expensive and vicious, but Judge Prosser won the April 5 election by about 7,000 votes.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court shortly afterwards upheld the legislation with Judge Prosser casting the deciding vote in a 4:3 decision.
The unions then turned to the recall, seeking to replace 6 Republican Senators with Democrats – hence the election yesterday. The Senate was split 19-14 after the 2010 election. A recall of three Republicans would turn the Senate.
The Democrats won only 2 seats yesterday with the Republicans holding onto 4. The results were something of a shocker to the unions. They expected victory in many of the Senate districts, which are based in the Milwaukee area. Over $30 million was poured into the elections by both sides. The unions got out the vote. But it wasn’t enough.
It’s not over though. The Republicans responded to the Democratic recall efforts by targeting 3 Democratic Senators for recall. One won retention last week, and the other two are being voted on next week. Speculation is that one of the two seats could flip to the Republicans.
The latest Democratic act is to promise a recall effort against Governor Walker next year.
Lost in all this political flurry is that the Governor signed a Republican gerrymandered reapportionment bill the other day, strengthening Republican prospects in future elections.
As a blue state turns red, the Democratic Party is fighting to retain its historic place in Wisconsin politics. It's fighting for political survival. If the Democrats lose, they should blame President Obama and not Governor Walker.
Maybe Wisconsin is once again leading America.