Today’s recall vote of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker has been touted as a crucial measure of the upcoming presidential election by both liberals and conservatives. Liberals say Walker’s defeat is a victory over the so-called fascistic measures Walker took to strip state workers of their apparently unalienable collective bargaining rights. As a growing number of states push right to work legislation, which allows individual workers to negotiate benefits without forced unionization, the Wisconsin recall is the frontline of the union battle for liberals.
Conservative pundits across the aisle see a win by Walker as a resounding endorsement of small-government, pro-liberty ideals represented in Walker’s fiscally responsible balanced budget, which turned a projected 1443 billion dollar budget deficit into a projected 154 million dollar surplus. As conservatives fight a growing national deficit, the threat of tax hikes and the continuing lack of a federal budget, Wisconsin represents the successful implementation of fiscal policy that conservatives argue for on a national level.
But the Wisconsin recall is important to the presidential election for another reason. Much like the 2008 presidential election, Wisconsin recall efforts have been lead by thug tactics and spending by highly organized unions and national progressive groups, while the movement to defeat the recall is largely grassroots, led by small, individual contributions going to phone calls calling conservatives to get out and vote. Walker has also relied on TV and radio ads.
Walker has raised about 30.5 million dollars, about two thirds coming from out of state contributions. While Tom Barrett, Walker’s Democratic challenger, has raised only about 4.2 million dollars, about a quarter of it comes from organized labor, much of it from in-state contributions. However, much more money has been spent by national labor unions on funding a vast network of field offices in Wisconsin. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), The National Education Association (NEA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are the nation’s three biggest public unions and have contributed millions to independent groups and PAC’s in Wisconsin. These groups, like We Are Wisconsin and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, have focused TV and radio ads and mailings, and most importantly bussing in union employees to protest and canvass. Many individuals the unions bussed in are paid to protest and have no idea why they are there. Others rely on thug tactics to intimidate private citizens into voting. Most notably, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, a progressive group, sent out mailers containing private voting records in an attempt to get Wisconsin citizens to intimidate their neighbors into voting against Walker.
And this is why the Wisconsin vote is so important. The 2008 Obama campaign was supported largely by the virtually unlimited resources of organized labor unions like SEIU and AFL-CIO. The 2012 election promises to be much of the same. The Wisconsin recall is a microcosm of the national election. The question is, can a loosely organized, grassroots led campaign, relying on volunteerism and donations from private citizens defeat the powerful machinations of the union machine, drawing on heavily organized and plentiful numbers and money? If it can be done on a state level, chances are it can be done on a national level, and this is why the Wisconsin recall is important for reasons other than partisan politics and ideals. It foreshadows what promises to be a nasty fight for the future of the nation.