Wisconsin Democrats’ inability to defeat three Republican incumbent state senators in the recent recall elections in Wisconsin is a devastating loss for Big Labor. It will have national ramifications for years to come.
Political Action Committees associated with national and state labor organizations shelled out more than
$16 million for nine recall elections. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees poured nearly $3 million into the races and the AFL-CIO ponied up $5.2 million. The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s NEA affiliate, spent more than $800,000.
In Senate District 8 alone, the “crown jewel” — as Wisconsin Democratic Party head Mike Tate labeled it — of the recall effort, overall spending in the race, topped the $10 million mark, compared with a paltry $3 million for the same seat in 2008.
Big Labor badly wanted control of the state Senate to act as a roadblock to any further taxpayer empowerment policies and as a catalyst for an anticipated 2012 recall of Gov. Scott Walker, labor’s new arch-enemy.
Big Labor hoped such a stunning mid-term reversal would send shock-waves to Republican governors and lawmakers in other states such as Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey and elsewhere. “Don’t mess with us, or there will be payback!” To win the majority, the Democrat coalition needed to knock off three GOP state Senate incumbents.
The Big Labor campaign had deep pockets, volunteers from around the country and apparent momentum to back up their optimism. The majority was well within their grasp, they thought.
But Big Labor failed to defeat all six Republican incumbents. They even failed to win the three seats they needed to get the majority. After all the smoke cleared, Republicans retained control of the Senate, 17-16. (It was previously 19-14.)
Elected officials from across the nation, many struggling under the same government employee benefit cost anchors that face Wisconsin, will look at the political results with new confidence. Now there is proof the public will support elected officials who rein in government employees’ platinum benefits.
Communities across Wisconsin are already seeing proof that asking government employees to contribute 12 percent towards their health care and 6 percent towards their pension can generate a windfall of taxpayer savings and prevent unnecessary layoffs or program cuts.
Ninety-three school districts have restructured their benefit costs, saving taxpayers more than $150 million. If each of Wisconsin’s school districts achieve this level of savings, statewide savings would cross the $500 million mark.
And just this week, WEAC announced it has to terminate more than 40 percent of its employees this month.
Without the forced conscription of union dues from the paychecks of the state’s public school teachers, WEAC will no longer have the funding to pay for business-as-usual.
This explains why Big Labor fought so hard and spent so much money in an off-election year, trying to obtain control of one branch of one statehouse in one Midwest state. It wasn’t about evil corporations or the super rich. It was about the survival of Big Labor.
Brett Healy is the president of Wisconsin’s MacIver Institute for Public Policy.