Yesterday results in Wisconsin were, as Tony pointed out, pretty much as predicted by the last polling. It’s mildly disappointing not to flip the state senate, and Republicans are predictably thinking themselves vindicated rather than lucky these elections took place in Republican districts. Note to Scott Johnson: yes, labor and progressive groups spent heavily, but you seem to want to pretend they weren’t matched by outside conservative money — trying to excuse losing two?
So the result was mixed. Two is pretty good, but one short of an ambitious goal. Two supposedly safe Republicans barely hung on. What do we take from this?
We can’t be sure how similar Wisconsin is to the rest of the country, but I’m willing to infer a few things. One is that the left was reenergized, but the right is energized too. This shouldn’t be a surprise since they turned out big just last November. They should be surprised the left reenergized so fast, though they seem not to be aware this has happened and their enthusiasm advantage is gone in Wisconsin, probably nationally. We, meanwhile, shouldn’t think we’ve reversed their advantage. We’ve merely balanced them, that’s all.
Josh Marshall at TPM had an interesting take, in response to a reader suggesting the recall was a questionable use of resources. He suggested we stop thinking in terms of spending limited resources, and more in terms of building up muscle. I’m not sure that applies entirely to money, but I see his point in terms of building up an organization and spreading a message. That is in fact how my senate district DFL was thinking when we attended every neighborhood event in our district this summer, despite having no election this year. To be sure, the point of stripping Wisconsin’s public workers of their right to organize is partly to reduce union resources, and it has to hurt, but there’s a new pool of volunteers and people with experience running campaigns, and despite not flipping the senate, coming this close in tough circumstances has to be a confidence boost. If some of this new muscle goes into union organizing, maybe Republicans won’t succeed in banning unions (they haven’t tried to outright ban unions except for specific groups of workers, but I have little doubt this is their goal).
As happy as Republicans are about hanging on to their majority by a one seat, and that just barely in supposedly safe districts, the whole state gets something to say about the attempt to recall Gov. Walker next year. If they want to be cocky, let them. I like the Democrats’ odds right now. They can also recall the legislators elected last year, and unlike recalling legislators who survived the Democratic wave in 2008, these legislators had the Republican wave behind them. There will be a lot more vulnerable Republican legislators next year, while the Democrats survived the wave so should be even less vulnerable than Democrats recalled this year. If Democrats go after legislators as well as Walker, they have a good chance to flip the Senate, maybe the Assembly too. It would be a very ambitious goal to flip the whole state government, but it’s hardly inconceivable.
Does last night portend anything for other states? No way to know. There might be a recall of Michigan’s governor. Ohio is set to have a referendum on repealing it’s new anti-union law this November. For either of those to succeed would be so big, the press might not go along with GOP spin like it seems to be doing in Wisconsin.
Specifically in Minnesota, we got lucky. Don’t anyone take an “It Can’t Happen Here” attitude. We’re more like Wisconsin than any other state, and we had the same flipping of the state legislature they did. 8,000 votes is all that saved us from having the same reactionary governor Wisconsin has, and our GOP legislators tried the same stripping of union rights as their Wisconsin counterparts, and judging by the policy changes they tried to shove through the shutdown negotiations, they really thought they would make Gov. Dayton sign them. Presumably the next time Republicans control both governor and legislature, they’ll be passing such measures if they haven’t decided they’re politically toxic.
Are there preventive measures we can take? Never again losing the legislature is good, though holding it forever, I’m not so sanguine about. Thinking specifically about the right to organize that drove the Wisconsin recalls, one of our arguments for opposing the marriage amendment is constitutions are supposed to enshrine rights, not enshrine the denial of rights. Maybe it’s time to pass our own amendment and enshrine a right, to wit, put the right to organize into the constitution.
Clearly it won’t pass a Republican legislature, but let’s take a long view. The marriage discrimination amendment is a case in point both ways. Republicans kept pushing it until they got a majorities in both houses and could get it passed. We have hope of defeating it because while these amendments were slam dunks for Republicans during the last decade, attitudes have been changed, not because they just mysteriously evolved, but because equality advocates kept making their case despite being in a clear minority. Getting union rights into the constitution will present an extra obstacle at minimum, and if we can convince the public this is a right worth protecting, stripping those rights will be extraordinarily difficult, but such convincing could take a while. Even many people who think the government went too far attacking public workers may just think stripping their rights was unnecessary, but may not think there is a definitive right to organize whether the government likes it or not. Actually, rights subject to government grant and revocation aren’t really rights.
Actually, there’s a double whammy here, because not only would amending the constitution (thinking big, how about the federal as well as the state constitution) secure a right, but as the resurgence of the left in Wisconsin shows, this is good politics. The issue that drove the recall campaigns could work here too.
One more lesson: this is not the time for disgruntled lefties to sit out politics or vote for a third party. These are not the old-fashioned Republicans who won’t do what Democrats want done, but at least believe in getting problems solved in way we can all live with and won’t try to shove through a repeal of all good things accomplished over the last century. Arne Carlson would not defeat Allen Quist if the 1994 primary were held again. Harold Stassen probably couldn’t get elected chair of a precinct. That temptation to dismiss all major party candidates as the same has got to be resisted, at least while the state is so closely divided.