by Paul Kersey
The more one looks at Gov. Scott Walkerís successful campaign against recall, the more impressive it is. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the most obvious: the margin of victory. With a healthy seven percent separating Walker from his challenger Tom Barrett, it wasnít even all that close.
At the same time, Walker pretty much dispensed with the notion that there is any large pool of disenfranchised or discouraged voters who support unions and bigger government. Or at the very least, there is an equal number of disaffected voters who are not enamored with unions and who want a leaner government. Turnout was 15 percent higher in the recall vote than it was in the first Walker versus Barrett race two years ago, but the vote percentages were very similar.
And it would be a mistake to think that Walker won by outspending his opponent. It has been commonly stated that Walker spent $30 million compared to only $4 million by Barrett. But this figure looks only at money spent by the official campaigns, and does not include PACs or union efforts. Union political spending in particular is largely under the table, in the form of issue advocacy and get-out-the-vote drives that do not necessarily show up in campaign finance or PAC reports. A complete estimate of the value of union support is practically impossible, but AFSCME has nearly 40,000 members in the state, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (Wisconsinís NEA affiliate) claims 98,000 members and AFT-Wisconsin claims another 17,000. If we assume that each of those government employees paid $400 in dues to their local, state and national unions, (a fairly conservative estimate) that works out to over $60 millions in dues annually. These unions had the resources and the motivation to make up the difference.
For all the resources these unions had available to them, Wisconsinís government unions were unable to do much more than tread water. Simply put, this is because Walkerís reform program worked: budgets were balanced, layoffs were averted. But part of the reason was because Wisconsin voters understood what was at stake: Government employee unions were distorting the stateís politics, creating a bloated government. Walkerís labor reform package was their best chance to regain control over their own government.
All of which shows that it is possible for a politician to make a hard choice and make it stick, something that should provide some encouragement to the long-suffering people of Illinois.
Paul Kersey is the Illinois Policy Institute's Director of Labor Policy.
image credit: Gash, Morry. "Scott Walker." Wisconsin Recall. AP Images. 6 June 2012. [http://apimages.ap.org/]