Scott Walker and the 2012 Election
Posted at: 06/08/2012 4:58 PM
| Updated at: 06/08/2012 5:00 PM
By: Dr. Timothy Kneeland | WHEC.com
What is the meaning of Scott Walker’s historic victory in Tuesday’s recall election?
Scott Walker, whose name was virtually unknown to America before 2010, entered into the political spotlight after he won the gubernatorial election in Wisconsin and then pushed through legislation to terminate the collective bargaining rights of most public sector workers (police, EMT, and firefighters were exempted) and to require that public servants contribute more to their pension plans. Walker’s plan led to passionate debate across Wisconsin, but in the end Walker prevailed and the legislation became law. Opponent of the bill mounted a legal challenge to the law and then launched a recall election to unseat Walker. Tuesday the two forces put the contest squarely where it belongs in the ballot box. Walker won Tuesday’s election 56% to 43% and will retain his seat.
So what does this mean?
I think the outcome is a defining moment in the history of labor. The people of the State of Wisconsin seem to have embraced the idea that public sector employees have more privileges than they ought to. Scott Walker’s victory is not about the end of labor unions but it is a demonstration that we in a period in American history in which the public is reassessing unions, especially public sector unions. The voting public in general seems less supportive of public sector growth now than at any time in the last two decades. While much of the nation’s attention was on Wisconsin Tuesday, in California two large cities, San Jose and San Diego had referendums in which the majority of voters voted to cut pensions for city employees. This week a Pew Research Poll showed that 39% of Obama supporters, 51% of swing voters, and 82% of Romney supporters think that “Labor Unions have too much power.” If the question had been worded differently (too many privileges) I suspect the numbers would have been higher. This has to be troubling news to unions since Swing voters seem to be increasing in number (according to the same Poll) this poll has dire implications for candidates that openly advocate for labor. We have already seen a reassessment of labor here in New York. Andrew Cuomo is a national Democratic figure, a likely contender for the White House in 2016, and he spent the first 18 months in office pressuring unions for concessions to balance the budget, creating a new pension tier that will have participants contributing more to their pensions, and signing into law a property tax cap to keep increases below 2% or at the rate of inflation. If California, New York, and the once reliably progressive Wisconsin are rolling back gains made by public sector unions what’s next?
For conservatives who oppose big government this is good news. They will press for more concessions from unions. The Walker victory makes the Tea Party relevant in the ’12 campaign and members of that coalition are already promoting Walker for the V.P. spot with Romney-- but that scenario is highly unlikely. What is more likely is that Scott Walker will get a chance to speak at the GOP Nominating Convention on behalf o f the Tea Party.
For liberals who want a more equitable distribution of wealth, this is bad news, especially with 8% unemployment and a weak economy. Together with labor union, especially ones such as SEIU, liberals will need to retrench and mount a public relations campaign to secure their existing rights from further erosion, at least until after the 2012 election. The immediate future for unions may be bleak, but as in the past I suspect labor will find a way to accommodate to the new political reality.
The results may be troubling for President Obama who wisely remained out of the fight, offering encouraging words from the sidelines. In the end he did not spend his political capital in a losing effort; but–Democrats in Wisconsin did not have as high a turnout as Republicans, especially in the all-important Milwaukee County. If the President cannot energize the Democrats in Wisconsin he may be in trouble in the fall.
Speaking of the fall election… my next blog will look at another set of issues for campaign 2012 related to the gender gap.