After fifteen months of continuous acrimony, culminating in a third recall election, the progressive political movement, the Democratic party and government unions suffered a major defeat in Wisconsin.
Governor Scott Walker won the election by a decisive 53% to 47% so he and his reform legislation that significantly reduced the power and influence of government unions will remain in place.
The unions’ retribution campaign has damaged their image in the mind of voters. Even if they had defeated Walker they would have been net losers because all the noise has raised public awareness of the disparity between the generous pay and benefit packages of the public sector and the more austere compensation received by employees in the recession ravaged private sector, the folks whose taxes pay the bills.
As election losers often do, the unons tried to blame money spent by the Walker campaign for their humiliating defeat. Depending on which hysterical talking head you believe, Gov. Walker outspent his union/Democrat/media adversaries five to one or eight to one or ten to one. We hope the decision makers in Democratic campaigns believe this propaganda and continue with the same loser campaign messaging, but it’s exaggerated, if not flat wrong.
Unions collect dues from their members and carve out a generous cut for politics. They pay salaries and expenses of campaign staff, produce videos and pamphlets and buy TV ads. These expenses paid by the union’s treasury and are not reported as contributions to the candidates they support.
Republicans, on the other hand, have no captive source of help. Every dollar they spend starts as a cash contribution that must be duly logged and reported. Walker’s challenger was required to report contributions that came into his campaign but he was not required to report the value of union activities on his behalf. So nobody except for a few union officials, nobody knows which side spent the most.
Wisconsin wasn’t the only place government unions suffered unprecedented losses. There was bad news in California, one of the most liberal states. In San Jose, one of the more liberal California cities voters passed 70% to 30% a ballot measure that reduced pension benefits for city employees. In San Diego, 66% favored a ballot measure putting many newly hired city workers into 401(k) retirement plans rather than the pension plans with guaranteed benefits current employees enjoy.
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who was also targeted for an unsuccessful recall said the election would go down in history as “the moment the campaign to save America began.”
We hope she’s right but there have been dramatic turning points before. Each time the progressive movement and its union supporters have come back from defeat to score new victories. The unions are fighting for much more than incrementally better pension benefits. They are fighting for their lives. Their strategy and tactics will reflect their desperate condition.