Wisconsin’s Republican governor Scott Walker — who last year eliminated all meaningful collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public employees — survived recall June 5. Walker won with 53 percent of the vote to 46 percent for Democrat Tom Barrett.
The same percentage held for lieutenant governor, where Walker’s incumbent running mate survived a challenge from fire fighter union leader Mahlon Mitchell 53 to 47 percent. Four Republican state senators also faced recall, and three kept their seats by even greater margins, including Senate Republican Leader (and Walker right-hand man) Scott Fitzgerald.
But the fourth, Van Wanggaard, lost to Democrat John Lehman, a retired teachers union member, and that means control of the state senate goes over to Democrats 17 to 16. [When Republicans rammed through the collective bargaining bill last year, they had a 19-14 majority in the Senate. But six Republican state senators faced recall last year, two of whom lost their seats to Democrats.]
Walker was able to keep his seat thanks to help from billionaires. He raised $30.5 million, mostly from out-of-state donors, compared to $3.9 million for Barrett, who focused on in-state fundraising. Walker also benefited from over $16 million in independent ad campaigns by supporters, including $3 million in by Americans For Prosperity, a group funded by the Koch brothers, and $1 million by the anti-union group Center For Union Facts. Barrett backers spent about $10 million on independent campaigns. [Labor unions earlier spent about $4 million on Kathleen Falk’s campaign to be the Democratic nominee, but she lost badly to Barrett in a May 8 primary.]
Turnout in the recall was the highest ever for a Wisconsin governor’s race: 2.5 million Wisconsinites voted, about 57 percent of voting age adults, and well more than the 2.17 million who voted in the 2010 election that brought Walker to power.
Walker’s 1,334,430 votes meant he and his allies spent about $35 per vote — most of it in a flood of last minute television advertising. Yet exit polls showed that over 90 percent had made up their minds before the ad barrage began, and 94 percent of voters voted for the same person they voted for in 2010.
An exit poll for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also showed that union households made up 33 percent of the electorate in the recall election, compared with 26 percent in 2010. And union households voted 63 percent for Barrett in the recall, compared with 62 percent in 2010. A union household was defined as having at least one person who is a union member.
The national AFL-CIO commissioned an exit poll of union members themselves. Of the 390 Wisconsin union members contacted by Hart Research Associates, 75 percent voted for Barrett. Public sector union members were 85 percent for Barrett, while private sector union members were 69 percent for Barrett. Just as with the public at large, women union members and union members with college degrees were somewhat more likely to vote for Barrett than men and those without any college. Asked whether public employees should be allowed to engage in collective bargaining over wages, benefits and working conditions, 82 percent of the union members said yes, and 14 percent said no.
In a press conference call the morning after, AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka emphasized the recapture of the state senate, and said Walker’s win was not a validation of the effort to eliminate collective bargaining rights. In Ohio, voters last year struck down a law that eliminated public employee collective bargaining rights. But Wisconsin lacks the referendum, the process by which opponents of a law may gather signatures to refer it to voters. And neither Walker nor Barrett emphasized the collective bargaining issue in their campaigns.
“This election wasn’t about collective bargaining,” Trumka said. “I wish it had been about collective bargaining, but it wasn’t.”