Our guest bloggers are David Madland, director of the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Nick Bunker, special assistant with the Economic Policy Team at CAPAF.
Tuesday night, Wisconsin Democrats won two state Senate seats in recall elections, but fell short of picking up enough seats to gain a majority in the state Senate. While this outcome is a setback, Tuesday night’s events are extremely encouraging for those who care about workers’ rights and the middle class.
In attacking collective bargaining rights, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and his fellow Republicans unleashed a historic recall effort. Since 1908, there have only been 20 recall elections for state legislators, and only two of those efforts were successful. By winning two recall elections last night, supporters of workers’ rights doubled the total amount of recalled legislators. Matching over 100 years of history in a few months is something to celebrate.
The elections also need to be taken in the context of where they took place. The senate districts were all solidly Republican. Jessica King’s victory over Sen. Randy Hopper happened in a district that hasn’t elected a Democratic state senator since 1936. Rep. Fred Clark came four points short against Sen. Luther Olsen in a district that hasn’t elected a Democratic since 1896.According to the New York Times’ Nate Silver, Walker won the six recall districts by an average of 13 percentage points, while only winning the state by 6 percentage points.
Merely making significant gains in these districts would have been impressive, but Democrats managed to win two seats and take another race down to the wire. If attacking workers’ rights caused such a backlash in solid Republican districts, imagine the impact in more politically competitive districts that were not eligible for a recall election this year.
Taking the state Senate would have been an amazing success, but what would it have accomplished? Senate Democrats would be able to block Gov. Walker’s agenda with greater ease, but they wouldn’t be able to restore collective bargaining rights to public sector workers. Winning back rights for those workers requires recalling Walker and taking back both of the legislative houses.
Voters have shown that they care about workers’ rights and will not stand idly by as politicians attack the middle class. This feeling is not limited to Wisconsin. Residents of Ohio have collected enough signatures to place repeal of Senate Bill 5 on the ballot. And perhaps most importantly, the national public has engaged in a discussion about workers’ rights and been reminded of how important collective bargaining and unions are to creating the American middle class.
Supporters of workers’ rights should be encouraged by these events. The results of last night’s elections were impressive, but they are just the beginning, for Wisconsin and the rest of the country.