Tomorrow, Wisconsin voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not to recall Scott Walker from the Governor’s mansion as well as the lieutenant governor and three incumbent state senators. This is the culmination of amazing demonstrations that began more than a year ago after Walker signed legislation greatly restricting collective bargaining rights for government unions. While some may look on this as a great example of democracy in action, I would be remiss if I did not speak about why this is quite the contrary. In fact, whether or not Walker is ultimately ousted tomorrow, this recall effort can only be described as a huge strategic blunder for the Democratic Party and for organized labor.
It’s not as if the writing wasn’t on the wall about what this outcome might look like. We saw a slight preview of this almost a year ago when six Republican state senators were placed on the ballot for recall. In the end, only two were successfully recalled from office. This showed that the ability to recall Walker would have a very steep hill to climb.
The realities of living in a campaign finance system post Citizen’s United seems to also be forgotten by those who are organized this effort. We knew that outside groups would be pouring in millions of dollars to defend Walker and would vastly outspend the outside groups on the progressive side. With these expenditures being allowed, it should be obvious that because of the smaller amount on our side, we will need that money to spend on the general elections in November in the Badger State.
There are two potentially vulnerable Republicans in the House in Rep. Sean Duffy (7th District) and Rep. Reid Ribble (8th District). There is also the open Senate seat of retiring Democratic Senator Herb Kohl. If the seat stays Democratic, it would result in the election of the first openly gay US Senator in Tammy Baldwin. But she will face stiff and well-funded competition, especially if her opponent is four-term former governor Tommy Thompson. Most polling has shown Thompson ahead in this race. Then, of course, there’s that whole Presidential election between President Obama and Mitt Romney and the fact that Wisconsin is looking closer than usual. The progressive side cannot afford to be spending money on a poorly executed recall campaign when there are so many things that need to be spent on in the fall.
There is a really cynical angle to be discussed here as well. Scott Walker has been one of the best fundraising tools for the Democratic Party and progressive organizations. Scott Walker is the new boogieman that we like to use to get people to pay attention and give money to our side. In losing Scott Walker, we would lose a great fundraising tool that has been very helpful to the finances of our side.
But there is one other problem with this recall and it’s the precedent it would set should it succeed. Recalls are a very rare thing in our democracy and usually recalls are only used for two reasons. Those reasons have been gross incompetence or systematic abuse of power. Scott Walker has not displayed either of those characteristics in his governance. He has achieved his agenda through the legislature as laid out in the Wisconsin state constitution. You can vehemently disagree with that agenda, as I do, but it was by no means achieved in a manner that violates state law. And what if the recall actually succeeds? We will most likely see recalls attempted of Democratic governors over things such as expanding union rights or lifting restrictions on abortion. Recall elections will most likely stop being a rarity in American politics and have a very good chance of becoming the norm, which is not how our government should operate.
Scott Walker won the governorship of Wisconsin in 2010 by a margin of 124,638 votes over Tom Barrett, which amounts to a difference of almost six percentage points. As long as he is not doing anything against the state constitution in his capacity in that office, he should be allowed to serve his four years in the office. It’s the best way to show that elections have consequences that we all must live with. But instead of handling the situation in a smart manner, the progressive movement has allowed a process to move forward that jeopardizes a lot more than they probably planned on. If Democratic candidates for House, Senate and President win in Wisconsin in November, regardless of the results of tomorrow’s results, it will be nothing short of a miracle.