The Wisconsin Recall Vote: Significance For The Presidential Race in 2012? The Hobson’s Choice.
The public employee union’s attempt to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin ended in defeat for Democratic Challenger Tom Barrett the incumbent mayor of Milwaukee. Walker carried 53.2 % of the vote to Barrett’s 46.3%. Obama carried the state by 15 points in 2008. Walker out spent Barrett eight to one once again proving money wins elections. However nearly 60% of Walkers money came from out of state, a large amount was donated by the Koch family interests. Total spending of the pro Walker forces was $43.6 million while Barrett’s campaign spent $17.9 million. His out of state money came from mainly union interests. It appears the Citizen’s United money from out of state helped Walker but not greatly because he only slightly increased his margins over Barrett who also ran against him for Governor. The public had already made up its mind on the issue before the money was spent on television ads according to the polls. However it is still to be noted that giant conservative PAC’s are out there willing to further there cause in state elections. This bodes ill for those states that elect their judges to the appellate courts in contested elections. Underfunded but worthy candidates for judicial office are likely to be steamrolled by big money if they chose to run at all. Maybe this is an unintended consequence of the Citizens United case but not likely.
Beyond the money issues the primary issue in the campaign was whether or not Walker could deny collective bargaining rights to public employee unions. Voters for Walker included Republicans Independents and some Democrats. The exit polls indicated that even some voters with family members who belonged to unions voted for Walker.
In the past employees of public entities were equated with industrial employees and were given the right to organize and to collectively bargain. The analogy of public employees to industrial employees was always a flawed one. The owners of private businesses were well equipped to face off with private union power. However elected politicians were in a weaker position and subject to election or non election by public employee unions. In many cases the public unions were negotiating with politicians who they financed and were the key to their election. Therefore the power of public unions, many in monopoly positions powerful enough to shut down city, county or even state services, at the bargaining table overwhelmed the elected officials to the point that many public entities now face bankruptcy because of public salaries, pensions and benefits. Early retirement and escalator clauses in pensions made it possible for some employees to retire young at greater pay than when they worked and also to start a new job in the same occupation in the next town or county for new benefits. This came at a time when private taxpaying citizens were losing their pensions to 401k plans and whose incomes were shrinking or jobs were vanishing altogether.
America’s experiment in collective bargaining for public employees is proving to be a failure and one taxpayers could not afford. As stated the basic premise that public employees were equivalent to private employees in a capitalist system was a flawed one in the first place. Private enterprise had limitations on the salaries and benefits they could pay and still stay in business. Public entities could force the public to dig ever deeper by the way of income, sales and other taxes and fees to meet the demands of public employees, particularly public safety employees whose demands had to met or the elected official could face a shut down or fire, police and other essential services and the loss of their elective posts.
This issue has been festering for a decade or more and finally came to a head in Wisconsin. This issue also cuts across party lines. Whether it becomes an issue in the Presidential election remains to be seen. If it does it may help Romney and put Obama in an awkward position especially in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and other Mid- West swing states affected by the decline in manufacturing and the resultant loss of jobs. The majority of public unions support Obama but public sentiment appears to be for decreasing their pay and benefits. If Romney raises this issue skillfully it may leave Obama with a Hobson’s choice.