MILWAUKEE - Despite GOP shenanigans, led by fake candidates and a mailing from a right-to-life group - just before Election Day - urging voters to cast absentee ballots five days later, labor-backed Democratic State Senate hopefuls swept six races in the first round of Wisconsin's nationally watched state recall elections.
"Wisconsin voters were not fooled today as they voted to support candidates who are ready to stand up for middle-class Wisconsinites and put the brakes on" right-wing GOP Gov. "Scott Walker's extreme agenda," the state AFL-CIO said after the vote.
The July 12 wins set up showdowns with six GOP state senators forced to fight for their seats after they helped Walker jam through his legislation earlier this year abolishing collective bargaining rights for 200,000 state and local public workers.
Walker's law is in the vanguard of a national right-wing-GOP-big business crusade to kill workers' rights, cut their pay, trash or abolish unions, raise health care costs, cut pensions and generally shove them out of the middle class.
Unionists have fought back in a variety of ways, with the Wisconsin recalls as Round 1. Primaries occurred in three Democratic-held State Senate seats July 19, with the deciding recall votes - pitting the primary winners against each other - on Aug. 9. Results of the nine races will decide if the GOP keeps its 19-14 state senate lead.
Labor poured manpower into the State Senate primaries, especially after the GOP recruited fake Democrats to try to knock off the labor-backed endorsed candidates.
Unionists also picked up wide backing nationwide. "What we're seeing now is more and more Americans paying attention" to the anti-worker moves of Walker, Govs. John Kasich, R-Ohio, Rick Scott, R-Fla., Chris Christie, R-N.J., and others, AFT President Randi Weingarten told her union's Teach conference in Washington, D.C.
"They're realizing what it would mean to revoke workers' rights and silence their voices, and they see it isn't pretty," Weingarten said.
The Milwaukee Labor Press reported that on Election Night, the "first text message from D.C. was someone who 'could not believe!!' the Republicans could find thousands of people" in one of the contested State Senate districts" to pretend to be Democrats and vote for the fake one."
"But the next message was from a happy supporter of the easy winner, real Democrat Sandy Pasch, who wound up with 21,000 votes and a 64%-36% margin. 'If that 11,000 is the hard core of (GOP State Sen. Alberta) Darling supporters, Sandy wins in a walk,'" the caller said.
The Labor Press said Democrats, labor and the GOP all should be concerned. "There is genuine anger over her (Darling) carrying water for the governor and Pasch's 'Alberta, How Could You?' campaign has considerable traction," the paper said.
"But Pasch's supporters also have reason for concern. There is some ground to be made up, not just with moderates but with people still uncertain about the whole concept of resorting to recalls," the paper added. That's one tactic labor is mulling nationwide. And the GOP will have a money edge: Darling alone raised $1 million.
That reluctance to get involved was clear among voters on both sides, say campaigners who went door to door. Even backers of Pasch - the most high-profile challenger to a GOP incumbent - "don't want to be too obvious about it," one labor canvasser told the Labor Press. "They want to be invited to the next block party."
"The fake Dem thing also looked unseemly to many Republicans as well as Democrats, and even to TV commentators who tried not to shake their heads and chuckle too visibly on camera.
Despite the claims that the GOP wasn't involved, the reality was they were and many of their traditionalists did not like it," the paper added.
"Most voters in the six senate districts that cast ballots on July 12 understood the real 'protest vote' came from the genuine Democrats willing to go to the extreme of recalls to change the divisive and mean-spirited nature of the State Senate today."
There will also be one-on-one combats in at least the five other GOP-held districts. Besides Pasch, currently a state representative from the Milwaukee area, the other Democratic primary winners were former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum in the Green Bay area, schoolteacher Shelly Moore of Ellsworth, State Rep. Jennifer Shilling of LaCrosse, State Rep. Fred Clark, and attorney Jessica King.
"The shameful and despicable GOP tactic to delay judgment day for 'The Walker 6' by running fake Democrats needlessly cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars," added Wisconsin AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale.
"This GOP trickery fell flat. The people of Wisconsin are serious. On Aug. 9, we will recall senators who chose to stand with Walker's corporate backers at the expense of working families."
Dominique Paul Noth is editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press. Photo: Mark Riechers // CC 2.0