[Marxism] Labor Notes on Wisconsin recall

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 11 07:42:15 MDT 2011

(Not a very militant analysis, I'm afraid.)


Wisconsin Recalls Take Two, Needed Three
Jim Cavanaugh
August 10, 2011

Wisconsin unionists toured the state in a Truth Tour bus and 
succeeded in recalling two of the six Republican senators they'd 
sought to unseat. Here they prepare to walk neighborhoods near 
Milwaukee. Photo: Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

 From the first day of the Wisconsin uprising last winter, chants 
of “Recall! Recall!” repeatedly sprang spontaneously from the crowds.

After petitioners collected tens of thousands of signatures for 
recall last spring, yesterday, finally, the voters had their say. 
By defeating only two of the six Republican state senators up for 
recall, Democrats fell one vote shy of a majority in the Senate. 
Two Democrats facing recall next Tuesday are expected to win their 

The two victorious Democrats are solid progressives. Jennifer 
Schilling, in the La Crosse area, has been in the Assembly for the 
past 10 years, compiling a 98 percent voting record on the state 
AFL-CIO’s roll call. Jessica King, deputy mayor of Oshkosh, is an 
attorney with a compelling personal history. The four Republicans 
who won reelection had all served in the legislature at least 16 
years and were able to ride that incumbency to victory in solidly 
Republican districts.

The only candidate who is a current union member—teacher Shelly 
Moore—was handily defeated.

Governor Scott Walker and company, sensing losses ahead, began 
downplaying the importance of these elections several days out, 
but that did not stop various front groups funded by the likes of 
the Koch Brothers and the De Vos family (Amway) from pouring 
millions of dollars into the elections.

All told, there were nine recall elections—six Republicans and 
three Democrats (one of the Democrats won his election easily on 
July 12). According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, almost 
twice as much money was spent on these nine races ($35-$40 
million) as was spent on all 116 Wisconsin legislative races in 
November 2010.

In the wealthy suburbs north and west of Milwaukee, $8 million was 
spent on behalf of just one incumbent, Alberta Darling, who was 
Walker’s point person on the powerful Joint Finance Committee. In 
what may well have been the most expensive state legislative race 
in the country’s history, the incumbent got 54 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, moderate Republican Senator Dale Schultz, who was not 
up for recall, has gone from marginalized to majordomo overnight. 
Schultz, who is known for working across the aisle and who has no 
love for Scott Walker, was the lone Republican vote in the Senate 
against Walker’s union-busting bill. What this means for organized 
labor is that Right to Work is probably off the table for the rest 
of this legislative session.
On Message

On the Republican side, nearly all the outside money was spent on 
radio and TV ads, which degenerated into tried and true racist 
smears about “welfare fraud” and “illegal aliens” as election day 
drew near.

By and large, however, the Republican candidates themselves stayed 
on message. That message was that they had closed the budget 
deficit without raising taxes. They accused Democrats of 
addressing the previous budget deficit by increasing taxes. The 
Republicans neglected to mention that those tax increases came 
mainly in the form of closing a major corporate loophole and 
increasing the income tax for the very wealthy by 1 percent.

Meanwhile, the Democratic challengers said Walker and his allies 
had closed the budget deficit via draconian cuts in state aid to 
education and local government while giving tax breaks to 

For the average voter, however, the message around budget cuts was 
largely theoretical. Local governments are currently preparing 
their budgets for next year, so cuts in local services have not 
yet been felt.

Because of mandated property tax freezes, some places, 
particularly smaller school districts, will face devastating cuts, 
despite the public employee concessions required by Walker’s 
union-busting legislation. Even large jurisdictions like the city 
of Madison will be hit hard. The city negotiated concessions from 
its union workforce but is still staring at an $11 million shortfall.

But all of that pain is in the future.

Given the fact that these elections were held during the dog days 
of August and that only one race was on each ballot, it was 
assumed that voter turnout would be the key.

Organized labor, its traditional allies, and many others whose 
interests had been gouged by Walker’s reverse-Robin Hood budget 
worked together under the “We Are Wisconsin” umbrella to produce a 
ground game unlike any previously seen.

Going into get-out-the-vote weekend, four days ago, hundreds of 
volunteers had already knocked on 275,000 doors and made nearly 
three times that many phone calls. The We Are Wisconsin effort, 
which also included media buys, was estimated at nearly $10 
million, mostly from unions.

Dozens of We Are Wisconsin staff and loaned union staff worked 
with hundreds of volunteers in each district. In addition, union 
volunteers from outside the recall districts aided the effort with 
phonebanks, data entry, packet stuffing, and carpooling into the 
districts for door-to-door canvassing.

For weeks prior to election day, the halls of the Madison Labor 
Temple, which is about an hour away from the nearest recall 
district, were packed with volunteer phoners, canvassers, and 
packet preparers. All told, over 5,000 volunteer hours were logged 
at the Temple prior to GOTV weekend and another 1,650 hours during 
the GOTV effort.

In the end, voter turnout was huge, matching gubernatorial votes 
in most areas and approaching presidential votes in several. And 
when turnout is huge in Republican districts, Republicans usually win.

The four Republican winners are in very Republican districts; 
indeed, all six Republicans being challenged had won election in 
2008 when Obama carried Wisconsin handily.
Recall Walker?

Some argue now that failure to win at least three of these races 
puts a damper on efforts to recall Walker. But Walker, when he is 
recalled, will be running statewide. He’ll not only have to win 
these six districts by significant margins, he’ll have to make 
inroads in Democratic strongholds where he is passionately loathed.

Last spring's statewide race for Supreme Court, where an unknown 
came within 7,000 votes of defeating a longtime incumbent ally of 
Walker, is probably a better yardstick of Walker’s chances than 
were these elections.

Wisconsinites face a daunting task in trying to reverse the damage 
that the Walker administration has already wrought. Yesterday was 
a first small step. Winning the two recall elections next Tuesday 
is another small step.

Recalling Walker would be a big step, and changing the state 
Assembly in November 2012 would be another big, possibly final, step.

These steps will only be accomplished, however, if the massive 
civic involvement of last winter’s street demonstrations, this 
past spring’s recall petitioning, and this summer’s voter 
education and GOTV efforts are sustained. That’s a tall order.

Jim Cavanaugh is president of the South Central Federation of 
Labor, headquartered in Madison.

More information about the Marxism mailing list