June 6, 2012
Belying all the pundits' predictions that it was going to be a close race, Gov. Scott Walker won a decisive victory in Wisconsin's recall election yesterday, beating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a 53%-46% margin. (CNN.com) As I wrote on Facebook, the results were a "huge relief for fiscal conservatives." The Democratic Party and labor unions made the effort to oust Walker a top priority, and the voice of the people was crystal clear: They support the Governor's reforms aimed at reining in the cost of public sector employees by restricting the power of unions to bargain on their behalf. As a former government employee myself, I am all too aware of how public sector unions raise costs and lower efficiency. Given the high job security enjoyed by most bureaucrats (compared to the private sector), there is really no reason for them to have unions. The fact that voters in a liberal state like Wisconsin are waking up to the threat to the public interest posed by public sector unions is an encouraging sign for Republicans as the November elections approach.
According to forbes.com (via Facebook), the Wisconsin election result "spells doom for public-sector unions." That may be putting it a little strongly, but the momentum is clearly with the side of those who favor free-market solutions to problems, rather than bureaucracies. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and AFL-CIO gambled a huge reserve of money and "grass-roots" volunteer time to get the word out to voters, with little evident effect. Given that the polls had indicated that it would be a close race, those efforts may actually have backfired.
"This was a referendum on collective-bargaining rights, and the unions lost," said Luke Hilgemann, director of Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin. (See Washington Post.) Many Democrats and sympathetic analysts have been blaming the defeat on all the out-of-state money that flooded into Wisconsin. Indeed, Walker's supporters outspent his opponents, $47 million to $18 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Well, Walker's opponents started the recall effort, so what did they expect would happen? There's nothing illegal about campaign donations across the state lines, and the issue is clearly one of national significance.
Personally, I am not entirely comfortable with the involvement of billionaires in funding political campaigns (e.g., the Koch family), and there is a possibility that it could eventually give rise to corrupting influence. One thing's for sure, I will be glad not to be getting several frantic e-mail alerts from various Tea Party organizations claiming to be supporting Gov. Walker. But somehow I fear they will keep up the deluge of e-mail junk. (Does all that stuff really do any good?)
And speaking of pundits' predications, I agree with U.Va. Prof. Larry Sabato that recall elections are generally a pernicious abuse of democratic processes, making it more difficult to govern. I'm glad that mechanism is not available here in Virginia.
The true significance of the Wisconsin election is that most Americans are aware that in tough economic times such as these, there must be serious budget cuts in government agencies, and public employees should not expect to be immune from the belt-tightening that most Americans are having to endure right now. There is still a large segment of the population that dreams of emulating the security-blanket entitlement system that is quickly crumbling in Europe right now, but as time goes on, there will be fewer and fewer people who think that way. Reality bites, and that spells big trouble for the reelection campaign of President Barack Obama, who will have to ditch his utopian rhetoric of "hope and change."
Obviously, most of my blogging efforts have been devoted to baseball lately, and not much time is left over for politics or my other interests. My enthusiasm for politics, and the Republican Party in particular, has waned quite a bit over the past year, and the bland Mitt Romney juggernaut has not helped matters. I'm not giving up, however, and I do intend to blog at least occasionally as this vital (yet discouraging) election year unfolds.