Opinion: How Much Backlash to the Backlash in Walker Recall?

Thursday, May 24, 2012 - 04:15 PM

Republican Gov. Scott Walker speaks at a news conference inside the Wisconsin State Capitol February 21, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Eric Thayer/Getty)

Shortly after the Tea Party rocked the political landscape with huge congressional and state-wide wins in 2010, a backlash to the backlash began. The main spark was a series of anti-worker laws that were speeding through statehouses, and the focus was in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker shocked his state with extreme efforts to undo a century of workers rights.

Protestors didn't just gather for a day - they took over the statehouse. There continue to be daily demonstrations; rallies in sympathy spread around the country; record numbers turned out in the freezing cold in Madison, and inspired actions elsewhere. Occupy Wall Street learned from and replicated some of the tactics from Wisconsin, while feeding off the progressive energy that movement unleashed. In many ways, for progressives who were despondent and working Americans who were being shoved aside, Wisconsin offered new life.

In less than two weeks, we'll hit a new mark in the Wisconsin saga where we see just how much the backlash has lashed.

Since the protests began, Republican State Senators have been successful recalled, though Democrats fell short of winning back a legislative house, a goal on this year's agenda. The bigger fish is the Governor himself. The recall election is set. The energy and anger are there, the organizing is strong, but recalling a governor is hard work.

It's made harder when that governor has become a symbol for the right wing's efforts to remake our country, and conservative donors and PACs and allies come to his aid. It's made harder by the same lax finance laws that are flooding the presidential race with SuperPAC-backed ads, and which are fast making Wisconsin's recall a historically expensive contest. And it's made harder when national Democratic organizations are sitting on the sidelines, as progressive groups are accusing the DNC of in recent weeks.

Nobody said it would be easy, and the organizations that have pushed this effort for the past 15 months have done a remarkable job. Regardless of the June 5th outcome, they have created an impressive operation that will continue to push back against conservative policies and play a role in the November election. They have effectively prevented Walker from pursuing harsher policies.

But it's never fun - or fully honest - to say "regardless of the outcome." Elections are about outcomes, and if Walker holds onto his post, it will be a sign that there's still work to do. However, as 2008 should have taught us, there's always more work to do. You can elect someone you put your hopes in, but you still have to hold elected officials accountable, create public pressure, and run a year-round campaign. Conservatives will be doing it; progressives need to as well.

A Walker victory may only recharge the organizers to keep up the pressure in November when less SuperPAC money will come to the aid of right-wing legislatures. In an election like that, people-power really can outmatch dollars.

And a Walker loss would send an even clearer message that the Tea Party doesn't own the concept of "backlash," that how you govern has consequences, and that conservatives - of all parties - need to watch out.


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Comments [5]


The state had a projected deficit of $3.6 billion when Walker became Governor and in two years it is gone. The state is projected to have a budget surplus of $154 million by next year.

Considering the governor withstood a ferocious and mindless barrage of hateful protests and saved his state from bankruptcy sort of suggests that Walker is a hero.

May. 27 2012 09:18 PM
Alger Hiss from Wellsville, PA

The only hope for the Rustbelt is to pass right-to-work laws and break the unions.

May. 27 2012 05:19 PM
Tony Christony from Milwaukee

The protestors true colors are red, white and blue because they followed the Wisconsin recall law in an effort to peacefully change their government.

Walker's reforms were not modest. He made no effort to get concessions from the public unions - he simply cut benefits and wages and stripped most of the unions of 99% of their collective bargaining rights. (Except police and firefighters). After he proposed the law and before it was passed, the involved unions were willing to accept temporary wage and benefit cuts to deal with the "crisis". No negotiations took place.

Its not clear that there was a crisis in the first place. We all know the economy had tanked - these things happen - the economy recovers and tax receipts increase. Even if there was a crisis - why pick and choose the unions you are going to cut bargaining rights, wages and benefits from? Shouldn't all citizens of Wisconsin share the burden?

Speaking of sharing burdens - corporations and the wealthy enjoy the benefits of Wisconsin's parks and public lands, its education system, its healthcare, its publicly funded sports arenas - why selectively cut their taxes if there truly is a crisis?

May. 26 2012 09:07 AM
Tony Christony from Wisconsin

What colors did the protestors show? Red, White and Blue for following Wisconsin recall law in an attempt to change our government peacefully?

Walker's reform would have been arguably modest if after he proposed the elimination of 99% of all public workers collective bargaining rights, he accepted the wage and benefit concessions the union workers agreed to. There was no negotiation. Walker further did not include police and firefighter unions, because the peaceful protests at Madison would have been even bigger.

Is cutting the wages and benefits of the state's employees the only way to solve a budget problem? In the 1950's and 1960's tax rates on the wealthy and corporations were much higher than they are now. The country seemed to be doing better economically. Walker refuses to consider increasing revenue - which seems to be a strange way to deal with a "crisis".

May. 26 2012 08:50 AM

"...series of anti-worker laws.... with extreme efforts to undo a century of workers rights"

It was a modest reform concerning public sector workers because the state was going broke and the demonstrators showed their true colors to the nation and the result will probably be a Walker victory next month and maybe this blue state will even end up going for Romney in November.
A "remarkable job" indeed.

May. 25 2012 12:10 AM

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