I honestly plumb forgot about the results in the final two Wisconsin recall elections last night. Public Policy Polling, which has been red-hot on election calls this cycle, put me at ease with their Monday poll showing double-digit leads for both Democratic incumbents, Robert Wirch and Jim Holperin. So it dropped off my radar. Lo and behold, the final numbers show that I was right not to worry.
In SD-22, Wirch won handily, by a 58-42 margin over Republican Jonathan Steitz. PPP had it at 55-42 Wirch, so they nailed Steitz’ number. In SD-12, which has a more Republican lean, Holperin won over Tea Party Republican Kim Simac by 55-45 (at press time, Florence County, which is more Republican than the district at large, had yet to report, but the AP called it for Holperin). PPP had it at 55-41 Holperin, so again they nailed one of the two final totals. They really have been outstanding so far this year.
So this means that the Democrats picked up a total of two seats in the recalls, and Republicans will have a 17-16 majority in the State Senate when they return to session. Dale Schultz, the moderate Republican who voted against the anti-union bill that stripped collective bargaining rights, will have a lot of say over what else of Scott Walker’s right-wing agenda gets passed. And the state waits for January 2012, when Walker and the rest of the legislature becomes eligible for recall.
That’s a long way off, and it may or may not be successful. But I think it’s clear that Wisconsin Democrats decided to react to an assault on fundamental rights and values by fighting back. And the electorate rewarded them. None of the Fab 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state in protest were recalled. Two of the Senate Republicans who voted in lockstep with Walker to take away worker’s rights no longer have a job themselves. Despite difficult electoral terrain and a built-in tendency against recalls, Democrats made strides. There’s nothing to be ashamed of here; in fact, it’s a great point upon which to build for the future, with a youth/labor/progressive alliance that has the Democratic Party in the state responsive to its demands.
This doesn’t mean that a lot of damage hasn’t already been done by the implementation of the anti-union law, both on an electoral and a personal level. Public employee unions are fighting for survival, and their members are suffering through wage cuts. In addition, the new gerrymandered redistricting maps will make it difficult to sustain these gains next year, although they may be headed to court, so they are subject to change. Overall, elections have consequences, and Walker and the Republicans have already transformed several facets of Wisconsin.
But extreme policy also has consequences on the flip side, and voters punished Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper for going along with that agenda. And the coalition to take back Wisconsin should be proud of those efforts, and determined for the future.