Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Voters bless Dems' flight from Wisconsin

The dust has settled. Two Republican state senators lay fallen in Wisconsin. All Democrats remain standing.

Lessons to draw from the state's historic series of recall elections:

  • The flight of state Democratic senators from Wisconsin earlier this year enjoys the blessing of the voters.
  • The proponents of returning Wisconsin and America to the days of Herbert Hoover are a force to be reckoned with.
  • Hence, true believers of the Wisconsin state motto – "Forward" – must dig in for the long haul.
Robert Wirch
Jim Holperin
On Tuesday Democratic Senators Robert Wirch and Jim Holperin easily prevailed in their recall elections in the Kenosha area and the North Woods, respectively, just as Dave Hansen did a month ago in the Green Bay area. The stated motive of the recalls was to punish Democratic senators for vacating the state rather than vote on Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to strip public employee unions of collective bargaining rights.

But voters were in the mood to reward rather than punish. Remember, not only did they return the three Democrats to office, but earlier they thwarted Republican efforts to get enough signatures to force a recall for five other targeted Dems.

Voters thus displayed sympathy for the Democrats' drastic tactic of leaving the state to delay a vote on Walker's drastic union-busting bill. Republicans like to argue that, in fleeing Dairyland, the Democratic senators abdicated their duty as lawmakers. But voters apparently believe the Democrats were actually doing their duty. Their departure delayed a vote on the bill and thus bought time for public reaction, which came in the form of huge protests at the state Capitol.

Democrats did gain. They had been outnumbered in the Senate by five. [An earlier version of this post had the wrong number.] Now, the margin is just one. But truth be told, they had dared hope for even more: control of the Senate. That Republicans held onto the majority testifies to their tenacity (and possibly to lousy campaign ads on behalf of the Democratic challengers.)

The Republicans are not the party of the future. The ranks of white voters – whence the Republican Party strength hails – is shrinking. Its three-note economic policy – cut taxes on the rich, rules for businesses and help for the poor – leads to disasters (such as the current economic doldrums in which the nation is stuck). And the future will not regard kindly the party's other quaint notions, such as anti-environmentalism. But maybe a party is most tenacious when it's dying.

Perhaps sensing their time is lapsing, Repubican leaders are going all out to extend their rule (for instance, through redistricting and voter ID laws, which makes voting more complicated and thereby a tad less likely, particularly for poor people, older people and students.) And like the Dems, the GOP threw everything it had and then some into the recall battle and succeeded in keeping its losses to just two.

That the Senate didn't turn over is no reason for progressives to lose faith. The political momentum is still theirs – momentum helped by the flow of history.

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