Ten Things You Should Know About the Wisconsin Recalls

by Christian Schneider

Today, voters in six Wisconsin senate districts go to the polls to determine whether they agree with Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to scale back public-sector collective bargaining. If Democrats win three seats, they take control of the state senate, pending two recalls elections of Democrats next week.

So with electoral Armageddon upon Wisconsin, here are a few fun facts that may have slid under the radar:

1. The seats being recalled represent 288 combined consecutive years of Republican representation. For the most part, the six seats up for election today are very GOP-heavy. Sen. Luther Olsen’s district has been represented by a Republican since 1896; Sen. Randy Hopper’s seat has been in Republican hands since 1936. Senator Rob Cowles’ seat near Green Bay was last held by a Democrat 61 years ago, in 1950. The least-Republican seat, held by Sen. Dan Kapanke for only seven years, is almost certain to go to the Democrats today.

2. Regardless of what happens, the union law will stay in place. Today’s elections may flip control of the state senate, but it won’t change the collective-bargaining law in any way. In this way, it is unlike the referendum that will occur in November in Ohio, which will be a public vote to repeal the law. The only thing that will repeal the law is if Democrats take control of both the assembly and governorship, which could be decades away — and we may be fighting the machines by then, so union issues might not be as important.

3. One or more of these races is heading for a recount. If the polls are to be believed, four of the six races are essentially within the margin of error. It seems almost a certainly that one of these seats will be decided by only a handful of votes. And if it is the seat that determines control of the senate, election attorneys around America will react as if they are college girls who just heard “Come On Eileen” start playing in the bar. There will be plenty of billable hours to be had if a lengthy recount process ensues.

4. The recall process barely made it into the Wisconsin constitution. In 1926, the public voted to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to allow for the recall of state elected officials and judges. It passed statewide by a razor-thin 4,743 votes, or 50.6 percent of the vote. This was the second time a recall amendment was brought to the public; in 1913, the LaFollette Progressives put the recall up to a vote and the public rejected it by a two-to-one margin. Once it narrowly passed, it took 70 years for a state elected official to be removed from office via a recall election. This year alone, there will be nine recall elections in Wisconsin.

5. Ripon College is in Sen. Luther Olsen’s district. And Harrison Ford went there. Seemed necessary to point out.

6. Union gains will be temporary. Most of the seats up for recall elections today are strong Republican-leaning seats. Many of them will be even more GOP-leaning when the recently passed state redistricting plan goes into effect. So even if Democrats win, say, the Randy Hopper seat, or the Luther Olsen seat, or the Alberta Darling seat, those seats are most likely going back to Republican in 2012. The recall elections aren’t about any long-term structural change; they are about giving the national unions a billy club they can use on other states that dare touch their benefits — which is why national unions have pumped tens of millions of dollars into the recall effort.

7. The unions are proving that the changes to public-sector organized labor were necessary. By “making it rain” tens of millions of dollars on Wisconsin, national unions are demonstrating perfectly the racket to which they have been a party for decades. Taxpayers pay government employees, unions take thousands of dollars out of those employees’ paychecks, then the unions use that money as a blowtorch to elect union-friendly representatives. The mere fact that public unions have so much money to spend in Wisconsin is the whole point.

8. Some of the GOP senators being recalled are in trouble because they aren’t used to running campaigns. As mentioned, most of the seats up for recall elections today lean pretty heavily to the Republicans. Consequently, senators like Luther Olsen and Robert Cowles haven’t really had to run a contested race in years — and they seem to be showing their rust.

9. Beware of calling races early. If you’re sitting at home watching election results roll in at the AP website, don’t get too excited or depressed when the vote totals swing wildly. As everyone learned with the Wisconsin supreme court race in April, the AP’s results aren’t official — and vote totals often change magically.

10. If you’re on Twitter . . . Be sure to follow NRO’s Robert Costa at (@RobertCostaNRO) and me (@Schneider_CM) for updates. We’ll both be embedded at various election-night events and providing running commentary throughout the evening. Polls close at 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

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