What does Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin mean?

To all of my friends in Wisconsin who didn’t vote yesterday, I hate you.

Not only are you responsible for keeping the unabashed corporate shill Scott Walker in office, but, more importantly, you’re responsible for ruining my first Netroots Nation conference.

OK, maybe I’m overstating things a bit. I’m sure the conference will be just fine. I suspect, however, that, had Walker been recalled last night, the conference would have been incredible, with progressives, such as myself, celebrating the fact that, at long last, the tide in American politics was shifting, and that our fellow citizens were finally waking up to the fact that our nation had been hijacked by the likes of ALEC and the Koch brothers. Instead, though, it’s like there’s a giant black cloud hanging over Providence today, as we all huddle in corners, discussing what yesterday’s 54% to 46% victory by Scott Walker means. While quite a few folks seem to feel as though it can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that his opponent in the recall election wasn’t someone with national name recognition, like Russ Feingold, who could pull in big money from out-of-state, but Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor, Tom Barrett, most seem to think that, in the end, it came down to money, and the fact that Walker could outspend his Democratic rival 9-to-1. With more on that, here’s a clip from Greg Sargent’s post last night on the Washington Post’s website.

Scott Walker’s victory in tonight’s recall battle is a major wake-up call for the left, Democrats, and unions about the true nature of the new, post-Citizens United political landscape, and it should force a major reckoning among liberals and Democrats about what this means for the future.

There’s no sugarcoating what this loss means for organized labor. Unions invested heavily in this battle in order to make an example of Walker. The goal was to show that Republican governors who attempt to roll back organizing rights will pay the ultimate political price. That effort failed, and the failure will have major repercussions for labor groups as they gear up for future fights over bargaining rights in states.

But Walker’s win also has major implications for Democratic elected officials across the country. It shows with crystal clarity that Republicans may very well be able to successfully use the new, post-Citizens United landscape to weaken the opposition in a structural way, and to eliminate major sources of support for that opposition.

“This has enormous implications for Democratic elected officials everywhere,” Andy Stern, the former president of SEIU and now a senior fellow at Columbia University, tells me. “Under the guise of acting to restore balance, [the right] is dramatically decreasing the amount of resources public unions have to participate in the political process.”

Indeed, one way of thinking about tonight’s results is that they say at least as much about Citizens United, and the ways it has empowered opponents of organized labor, as they do about the very real decline of union power. An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found that Walker outraised his vanquished opponent Tom Barrett by nearly eight to one, and that outside groups supporting Walker vastly outspent unions, thanks to Citizens United.

Unions and Dems had hoped that grassroots organizing would be enough to offset that spending advantage, and they did in fact mount a huge effort along those lines. The labor-backed We Are Wisconsin signed up 50,000 volunteers in the last 96 hours, a volunteer army that knocked on 1.5 million doors throughout the state. It wasn’t nearly enough…

The Republicans, for what it’s worth, are downplaying the fact that tens of millions of dollars came rolling in from Super PACs across the country to support Walker, who has been at the forefront of the conservative effort to break unions, slash public spending, and privatize state services. Sarah Palin, for instance, had the following to say.

“I think Wisconsin voters are sick and tired of the division that’s been caused by the radical left, saying it’s big-government growth that’s going to be the answer to economic challenges.”

She also said, I believe, that the vote was less about Walker, and more about the refutation of union “thuggery.” Personally, I suspect it probably had a bit more to do with deceptive advertising, and robocalls telling registered Democrats that they didn’t have to go to their polling places, as their votes had already been counted. But, the election is over now, and, dirty tricks or not, the right has won, and now we’re all left wondering what it means. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus, clearly relishing what happened in Wisconsin, thinks it bodes well for their side. Here’s what he had to say last night.

“Wisconsin Democrats now head into November dispirited and in disarray, while Republicans remain strong and organized, with momentum on our side.”

And, the sad thing is, he’s right.

My hope is that the left rebounds, with people contributing to progressive political campaigns in epic amounts, and fighting back against Citizens United with newfound strength. I worry, however, that a lot of us will just shut down, and resign ourselves to defeat at the hands of a much better funded, and exponentially more ruthless, foe.

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  1. Watching Laughing.
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    The Wisconsin Senate flipped. That’s 6 Republican State Senators that got recalled and tossed out to date, I believe?. Dems took control and Walker and his Koch Brother financiers outspent 32 million to 3 million and exit polling showed people over 50% plan on voting for Obama and 41 percent Romney.
    The recall voter, who kept Walker in didn’t feel they could just toss out a Gov on non corruption. This would make it easy to just toss a Gov anytime. They’re thinking was found based on exit polling.
    Interestingly , Walker is under federal Investigation and an indictment is apparently coming, possibly days. His number 1 adviser has flipped against Walker. More to come with that in the coming days.
    Republicans shoved through a bill that would require all registration to vote be in your new residence for at least 28 days. All universities had let out and all the students that headed home where under the 28 days and couldn’t even register, nice dry run trick.
    Your conclusion wasn’t that cut and dry and simple.
    Yes, Russ Feingold would of been better, no doubt.
    We got out spent big time.


  2. Watching Laughing.
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    I just cut and pasted from the other topic, sorry I forgot to take out “Your conclusion wasn’t that cut and dry and simple.”
    That was for EOS on the other topic.


  3. EOS
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    What people tell exit polls and how they vote in private are separate matters. The polls before the election thought it would be a close race. In a Democratic State with strong union involvement at the polls, many will tell the pollster whatever they think will get them less grief. The wide margin of victory wouldn’t be affected by a few potential voters who haven’t registered. The governors support increased since he gained office because he accomplished exactly what he promised that he would do. How refreshing! The Dems made a big mistake with this recall election. Reps are now very organized and very enthusiastic about November. It has energized the Republican base nation wide. The unions invested an enormous amount of money and energy – both of which will be in short supply among Dems in November.

  4. Watching Laughing.
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    32 million to 3 million money gap, REALLY?


  5. JC
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    MM: here is an answer to your title’s query:

    “Wisconsin and the Left,” by Steve Horn

    There was an expression among activists that went “One year longer, one year stronger” a year after the beginning of the “Wisconsin Uprising” here in Madison, WI. The reality is that one year+ longer, the left as an organizing force is “one year weaker.”

    The truth? People, as a mass movement in the United States, are attracted to right-wing populism, embodied by the likes of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who recently won the recall election by an astounding 7-percent landslide.

    Sure, there are refrains, such as “this was an auction, not an election,” and that “money won this election.” But people still voted and have agency. And Walker won by a long-shot.

    Many important questions arise for those who consider themselves, broadly speaking, on the left: a.) Why the grassroots attraction to right-wing populism? b.) How’d the left (both liberals and leftists alike) get steam-rolled so badly? c.) What’s next for the grassroots activist of a left-leaning orientation now that, bluntly speaking and when looked at through a sober viewpoint, the cause has been so badly bludgeoned since last year’s “Uprising”?

    Right-Wing Populism Explained

    Many schools of thought exist as to why people of a working class background have flocked toward the Tea Party.

    There’s Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” argument, which posits that, in essence, working class people are duped by wedge issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, into voting against their economic class interests. This, of course, assumes the Democratic Party is the “party of the people.”

    There is also the Chris Hedges’ “Death of the Liberal Class” argument, which says what he conceptualizes as the “liberal class” is dead and has lost its legitimacy among the United States’ citizenry. Another way to refer to the “liberal class” is to call it the “liberal elite.” This argument is far more compelling and complex than the Frank argument.

    Hedges posits that long ago, liberal elites abandoned the rank-and-file of the working class, though they have continued to, in a hollow manner, speak on behalf of it. Because an untold number of people feel abandoned by liberal elites, its void has been filled by an organized and outraged right-wing populist front, argues Hedges. Hedges argues that Wall Street Democrats like President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama serve as Exhibit A of the liberal class. I would take that a step further and say so too did Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett.

    Then there’s the Noam Chomsky argument, which in most ways mirrors the Hedges argument, but directly addresses the question of the Tea Party. In a speech he gave in Madison, WI in April 2010, he stated, “Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, I think. It would be far more appropriate to understand what lies behind them and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right and not by forces like those that did so in my childhood, in the days of formation of the CIO and other constructive activism.”

    What Happened to the Left?

    Emma Goldman had it right when she stated, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” Labor and the left in Wisconsin committed suicide when it demobilized a legitimate grassroots movement and turned it into an electoral campaign. It has been a long, slow death.

    Grassroots activists with righteous indignation gave up their agency to do that which was deemed “acceptable” to the powers that be, namely the “Union Bosses” and the Democratic Party apparatchiks. Why was a general strike never considered? Why not creative tactics to “kill the bill,” Act 10, the reason for the “Uprising” and recall to begin with? How’d this all morph into what it’s morphed into?

    In the main, the left has failed to understand that what populist right-wing activists hate more than anything else is the Democratic Party and unions, two pillars of what Hedges defines as the “Liberal Class.” Their hatred is justified, given that, as Hedges points out, these institutions abandoned working class people long ago. Thus, the left confused real grassroots power with the Liberal Class and are now paying the consequences.

    What’s Next?

    Some will say that the John Doe affair could bring the demise of Walker, keeping hope alive of a Walker unseating. Others will say it’s time to put all efforts into the Obama campaign.

    But that’s all, for the most part, a grand charade for movements representing the working class.

    What’s really needed?

    An acknowledgement, at the very least, that the working-class grassroots in the majority of Wisconsin are attracted to right-wing populism. They see Madison (rightfully so, I’d argue) as an elitist, detached enclave 77 square miles surrounded by reality. Any left-leaning independent activism strategy that has any force, meaning and direction will have to see that these are people are allies in the fight, not people to scoff at as dumb, naive or absurd.

    For now, it’s “One Year Longer, One Year Weaker,” but it doesn’t have to be like that forever. In the meantime its “Back to the drawing board,” as the old adage goes.

  6. Watching Laughing.
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Billionaires money, Union Money, 32 million to 3 million, hmmmmmm?
    Who has astronomically more money?


  7. Bob
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Based on yesterdays failure the recall Rick Snyder effort is disbanding. Have an Arbor brew and celebrate voting against your own interests.

  8. Watching Laughing.
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    YES, indeed, freaking amazing,,,


  9. Meta
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    There is a bit of a silver lining.

    Republicans scored big in Wisconsin Tuesday when Gov. Scott Walker fended off a recall vote, but Democrats appeared to eke out a victory in the state senate, where local news organizations reported Democrats taking control after winning their own recall attempts.

    Four Republican senators faced recall votes Tuesday. At least three held on to their seats, but former Sen. John Lehman, a Democrat, declared victory in ousting incumbent Sen. Van Wanggaard. The vote was extremely close, and results have not been certified, CNN affiliate WTMJ reported.

    “It is clear that we won the 21 district,” Lehman told cheering supporters.

    Meanwhile, Lehman’s challenger, Van Wanggaard, refused to concede. His spokesman told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the campaign would wait for results to be examined before making any decision.

    “We owe it to all of Senator Wanggaard’s supporters and the voters of Wisconsin to thoroughly examine the election and its results and act accordingly once we have all of the information,” Justin Phillips told the newspaper.

    The Wisconsin legislature will be out of session until after the general election in November, when 16 of the body’s 33 seats will be up for grabs, meaning any new Democratic majority would be fleeting.

    On CNN Wednesday, Democratic Wisconsin Rep. Jon Erpenbach said the results in Wisconsin presented a “mixed message.”

    “Obviously it was a tough night for Democrats. At the same time, Wisconsin Democrats in the State Senate picked up a seat so we have control in the State Senate so it’s mixed messages last night,” Erpenbach said on CNN’s “Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.”


  10. Edward
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    We should have been fighting Citizens United harder. Anyone paying attention knew that this was coming.

  11. Rai Harashi
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    The narrative that union members do anything but hard work to earn pay and benefits is a powerful one. That combined with the news that municipalities are going broke due to pension obligations make people think twice about being pro union. For many people, belt tightening is always a virtue. It never hurts to vote to make the government and unions do it.

    The conspiracy-minded among  you like to go on about the Koch brothers  buying the election, but all they are doing is evoking values people already hold. It’s individual people filling in the dots on the ballot. 

    I don’t think people are suffering enough for elections like this to tilt toward labor. I read about economic hardship in the news, but I’m still seeing masses of people driving new cars, typing away on iPhones, and  filling huge shopping baskets with food, toys, and consumer electronics at Costco.

    It may get worse in a hurry here, and maybe things will change, but now isn’t the time for the common people to see themselves as common and rise up.

  12. Dan
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    good post Rai. I agree with almost all of it, except the Koch brothers thing. It’s not just the enormous amount of capital that they and other corporations can contribute, it’s that they are buying a candidate who now owes them a favor. The continuous corporate welfare and subsidies, the advantage of capital gains tax rates, etc will just get worse, when the people that benefit from them most are the ones bank rolling their candidates in exchange for favorable legislature

  13. mark k
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    “Unions invested heavily in this battle in order to make an example of Walker.”
    When did unions become people? I know the union I belong to doesn’t do my bidding, they are more interested in looking out for themselves. As long as unions are in the game, so should corporations.

  14. mark k
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    ” robocalls telling registered Democrats that they didn’t have to go to their polling places”
    Are democrats really this dumb, or is it just that their leadership thinks they are?

  15. Dan
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    ” As long as unions are in the game, so should corporations.”

    100% agreed mark k. Both should be out of the game. it’s a complete mockery of representation

  16. Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    As I said on your Facebook post, Mark, it’s over and we lost. Saying “they bought/rigged/stole the election” is like saying “I just didn’t make the cheerleading squad cuz those bitches jealous of me”–it makes you feel better, but it doesn’t reflect reality. Thanks to a brilliant combination of hate radio, hate internet and Fox News, plus a loud group of right wingers, the general consensus seems to be that unions caused the financial trouble, the poor should go fuck themselves and if I don’t have it, you shouldn’t either. It troubles me that when people hear I have a pension, they say, “I don’t, she shouldn’t either” instead of “I don’t, and why not? How can I get one too?, but it is what it is.

    It upsets me that we are, as a friend said the other day, just crabs in a bucket, but that is where we find ourselves. But in order to be even mildly successful, I think we have to operate under the reality of the crabs in a bucket. I don’t know how to do that, but to continue to think we are going to change hearts and minds of these morons if naive and politically suicidal. I am afraid that we could resurrect Emma Goldman, Mother Jones, Bobby Kennedy, MLK Jr. and it still wouldn’t change that mindset.

  17. Dan
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink


    “It troubles me that when people hear I have a pension, they say, “I don’t, she shouldn’t either” instead of “I don’t, and why not? How can I get one too?, but it is what it is.”

    It’s not “she does, why dont I?”, its’ “Why does anyone?” Pensions are not a sustainable approach to retirement. No one should be guaranteed a fixed retirement regardless of how the rest of the economic world is working. I honestly dont understand why people think something like that is even acceptable. (and again, my parents live off of their fixed income pension, so it’s not jealousy or whatnot). You simply can not have such an unsustainable practice in a free market environment. The companies/cities/schools that are forced to proved those pensions are not guaranteed a return on their investments. Why should they have to guarantee a payout?

    I really dont understand the logic behind that thinking. Why shouldnt everyone have to retire on their own investments? I literally have never heard a logical argument against that

  18. Hector Solon
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    What an election like Tuesday night in WI would have meant in MI is the end of the complete control of the State by idiots. That is a big something. Not all conflicts against huge opponents (ALEC, AFP and billionaire money – which is just as big in MI as in WI – fact is WI folks are worried about us here in MI) can or will be won by frontal assault, but the teams that fought their recalls and won again on Tuesday were very significant. Huge organizations and their HUGE money don’t have the agility progressives need to claim, and that can be enough to slow these machines down, just long enough to pop off a wheel or two. Big win in WI Tuesday night (assuming the State race recount holds, and that’s a tall order). Not shutting down here, and gl at nrn – make sure to perk up a few friends – history is a long haul.

  19. Posted June 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Dan, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, so I am not going to engage you in this discussion. I have said before that most people simply cannot invest either for lack of money or lack of knowledge (and the fact that 401ks are not retirement vehicles). I will never come around to your way of thinking–I am rather close minded about certain things and this happens to be one of them.

  20. Posted June 7, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I’m with TeacherPatti,
    I wonder how Dan, “my parents live off of their fixed income pension”,would feel if instead they had to move in with Dan, because another speculative driven bubble had just burst blowing up 25 or 30 years of their investments?

  21. Dan
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink


    if my parents needed help, I would of course do what I could. But you’re missing the point. That situation you mentioned DID happen to the rest of the country. I know several people that had to put off retirement for a few years when the market crashed. But that’s reality. You’re not guaranteed anything in the real world. Why do you think you should be? Why do you think you should be immune to the economic realities of the world? Thats what I dont get, and I havent heard anyone explain it yet.

  22. Meta
    Posted June 17, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    “Young people didn’t turn out. Only 16 percent of the electorate was 18-29, compared to 22 percent in 2008. That’s the difference between 646,212 and 400,599 young voters, or about 246,000. Walker won by 172,739 votes.”


  23. Demetrius
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Who’d have guessed … ?


  24. John Galt
    Posted June 10, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m a glass half full kind of guy and I see this as good news, Demetrius. Cheap labor, and lots of it. Nothing makes capitalism hum like desperation.

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