MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin voters yesterday rejected a well-funded Republican/radical right attempt to recall two Democratic state senators who stood up against Gov. Scott Walker's attack on workers rights.
"The results show that the people of this state are looking for a check on Scott Walker's reckless and radical agenda," declared Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, in a phone interview today.
Yesterday, Democratic state Sen. Bob Wirch won a 57-43 percent victory over the GOP's Jonathan Steitz and state Sen. Jim Holperin defeated the extreme right-wing tea party Republican Kim Simac, 54-46 percent.
"Last week, we gained two critical seats in the Wisconsin state Senate," said Neuenfeldt. "Last night, coupled with Senator (Dave) Hansen's win in July, working people have won five of the nine recall elections."
The leader of the state's largest labor federation said he saw a "turning tide" and that "voters in Wisconsin are sending a clear message. The rubber stamping of Walker's extreme agenda by the Wisconsin Senate is not the way forward."
While the labor movement has not succeeded in its goal of ending GOP control of the state Senate, it has narrowed the Republican hold on that body to 17-16. The GOP had a 19-14 lock on the Senate before the recall process.
Union supporters are celebrating what they say was a successful recall election effort, overall. On August 9, labor-led efforts resulted in the recall of two Republican state senators who were leaders of the governor's successful push to eliminate collective bargaining rights.
On July 19, unions had already come out ahead when Hansen defeated a Republican recall attempt.
When the recall battle started in April, Republicans targeted eight Democratic senators, but could only collect the required number of signatures in three districts to qualify for the ballot. Even in those districts, all three of their recall efforts were defeated.
The labor movement, working in coalition with health care activists, civil rights groups, community organizations, student organizations and faith-based groups, mounted a monumental operation that collected record numbers of signatures to put six Republican senators up for recall.
The Republicans that were put up for recall represented districts in predominantly rural areas. In one, a Democrat hadn't been elected since the late 1800s. Despite a 14-point statewide margin of victory for Barack Obama, no Democrat had won in any of the districts targeted by the labor movement. Given that situation, labor leaders are upbeat about their having defeated two entrenched Republicans,
"Working people are fighting back," said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale. "The people proved once again that Scott Walker's attacks on worker rights, health care, education and local communities is not what Wisconsin wants."
The results have apparently emboldened Democratic Party leaders who are now saying they will mount an effort to recall Gov. Walker early next year. The effort will require 500,000 signatures.
Republicans are apparently nervous now about a possible Walker recall. Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said, "The problems facing our state are too serious for these political games, and the Democrats' permanent campaign cycle. The Democrats need to start working with the other side of the aisle, not just moving on to their next recall target."
Democratic leaders believe that as a result of yesterday's elections they have gained new political leverage. They point out that a 17-16 split doesn't automatically give right-wing Republicans the solid control they would want and that the balance of power in the Senate has actually already shifted away from conservatives. (There was one Republican, Dale Schultz, who voted earlier this year against Walker's bill to curb collective bargaining rights.)
"The state Senate as now constituted would not have approved Walker's extreme, divisive assault on the middle class and working people," Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate said in a statement.
Photo: Demonstrations at the Madison State House earlier this year. People's World