Wisconsin Republicans, and more to the point, Wisconsin voters have defeated the unions again.
Madison, Wisconsin. A stand by Wisconsin Republicans against a massive effort to oust them from power could reverberate across the country as the battle over union rights and the conservative revolution heads toward the 2012 presidential race.
Democrats succeeded in taking two Wisconsin state Senate seats away from Republican incumbents in the recent special recall elections, but fell short of what they needed to seize majority control of the state senate.
Republicans saw it as a big win for Governor Scott Walker and a confirmation of his conservative agenda, the hallmark of which was a measure that pared collective bargaining from public employees. The measure proved to be highly polarizing, as labor unions from around the country lined up to battle Governor Walker.
"Republicans are going to continue doing what we promised the people of Wisconsin -- improve the economy and get Wisconsin moving back in the right direction," Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a prepared statement after the victory.
Walker attempted to strike a bipartisan tone in victory, saying that he reached out to leaders in both parties. "In the days ahead I look forward to working with legislators of all parties to grow jobs for Wisconsin and move our state forward," Walker said in a prepared statement.
Democrats and union leaders tried to make the best of the GOP wins. "The fact of the matter remains that, fighting on Republican turf, we have begun the work of stopping the Scott Walker agenda," said Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate.
Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, said voters sent a message that "there is a growing movement to reclaim the middle class." He also added an absurd comment, "let's be clear, anyway you slice it, this is an unprecedented victory," he said.
How Neuenfeldt and the AFL-CIO claim the loss as "an unprecedented victory" is astonishing. The Unions and Democrats fell far short of what they set out to achieve. End of analysis.
Despite having spent more than $30 million in defeat, the unions and democrats still plan to move ahead with recalling Walker. Realistically speaking, they will have a very difficult time maintaining momentum for the effort which can't start until November.
Sen. Luther Olsen, one of the four Republicans who won, said he hoped the victories would "take the wind out of the recall for Walker, but I'm not sure."
Republicans would still hold a narrow 17-16 majority. Four Republican senators held on to their seats in the recall elections. They were Olsen and Senators Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, Rob Cowles of Allouez, and Alberta Darling of River Hills. Two Republicans -- Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and Dan Kapanke of La Crosse -- were defeated. Former deputy mayor of Oshkosh, Jessica King beat Hopper and Democratic state Representative Jennifer Shilling beat Kapanke.
Republican and Democratic strategists were leery of reading too much into the results heading into next year's campaign in which Wisconsin is expected to be a key swing state. However, Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said the results could provide "some early radar warnings" about the 2012 races. "At a minimum, we already know that the conservatives are providing energy for progressive to fight back like an angry badger that otherwise may not have existed," he said. Lehane said Wisconsin's tumultuous year since November's elections has been a microcosm of the current "roller coaster" era of U.S. politics.
Lehane largely distorted the truth with his statements. Walker and the Republicans are proceeding with the agenda they ran on last November when the voters of Wisconsin elected them in what was largely a massive repudiation of the big spending progressive agenda. Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office in the 2010 election just nine months ago. Since Walker took office the left, fueled by massive spending and protest efforts from the unions, have worked outside the electoral process while all the while claiming their efforts "are what democracy looks like."
The big spending unions have, to a great extent, caused mixed emotions among Wisconsin voters. Many said they voted for the Republicans not because they entirely agree with everything the Republican Party has done or the governor, but because they're working toward addressing the state's problems.
Democrats had hoped enough wins in the recalls would have allowed them to block the Republican agenda, but the GOP held on to the majorities that have allowed them to rapidly pass bills through the Legislature.
The elections were also closely watched in other states undergoing similar partisan battles. A coalition of unions and labor-friendly groups fighting a Wisconsin-style collective bargaining overhaul in Ohio said the outcome of the recall elections will have little bearing on whether Ohio's law is repealed this fall.
The effort in Wisconsin was about recalling specific Republicans who voted for the anti-union bill while the push in Ohio is about repealing the law itself. That makes it difficult to compare the two states.
Supporters of the Ohio law also are distancing their state from the fight in Wisconsin. "We're not focused on Wisconsin, and Ohioans aren't looking to another state to tell them where they should stand," said Jason Mauk, spokesman for Building a Better Ohio, a group defending the collective bargaining law.
Ohioans will vote November 8 on whether to accept or reject the union-limiting law signed by Republican Governor John Kasich in March that limits bargaining rights for more than 350,000 police, firefighters, teachers and other government employees. Unlike Wisconsin, Ohio's Constitution makes no provision for recalling elected officials.
Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor's office in the 2010 election just nine months ago, and the behavior of the unions and the democratic party run the very real risk of pushing voters towards even more widespread Republican victories in 2012. Including the ultimate Republican victory, defeating Barack Obama.