Unions Lose Big in Wisconsin Recall Elections

Unions fail to stop reform-minded Wisconsin governor and state legislature.

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Wisconsin, the birthplace of collective bargaining for public employee unions, has a reputation for being a liberal state.  When newly-elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker, backed by the state legislature, moved earlier this year to change state laws affecting those same unions, their rebellion became national news. Protestors occupied the Capitol building. Tempers flared. The unions made threats and their Democratic allies in the legislature left the state in a childish attempt to thwart Walker's agenda.

It passed anyway.

[See photos of the Wisconsin protests.]

Threatening to make Wisconsin a test case that would put the fear of the almighty into any reform-minded Republican anywhere in the United States, the unions mobilized, looking for ways to change the power structure of the state in a way that would allow Walker's reforms to be undone. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]

At each step, they've failed.

They couldn't stop Walker from getting his reforms through. They failed in their effort to replace a conservative state supreme court justice with a liberal one to flip the ideological balance of the court before it had a chance to rule on whether Walker's reforms were constitutional. And, Tuesday, their effort to recall enough Republican state senators to flip control of the chamber back to the Democrats came up dry.

Admittedly, they came close. They managed to successfully petition for the recall of six GOP senators but were only to replace two—one who was sitting in a solidly Democratic district and one who had left his wife to take up with a staffer. But they needed three to win control. So the Wisconsin Senate remains in GOP hands by one seat—and there are two Democratic senators facing the voters in round two of the recall elections next week. [Check out our editorial cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

Nevertheless, in politics, a miss can be as close as a mile. After spending millions of dollars to try and upend the results of the 2010 elections in Wisconsin, the unions have little to show for it. What happened on Tuesday—even though it could be considered a third strike—is not the end of the story but it probably does mean that proposed plans to recall Walker sometime next year will have to be revised.

It also means that the voters' appetite for change in the way politicians do business has not been sated. Walker's reforms, which were advertised as being quite radical because of the way they challenged the liberal power structure, were actually rather modest, but meaningful. The electorate is hungry for a change in the way America is governed. The public employee unions' relationship to government is a part of that. They are ready to reward those, like Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature, who stood on principle during very trying times and under tremendous political pressure.

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