Wisconsin’s recall vote
End of a fantasy
A backlash against the state’s feisty conservatives fizzles out
Aug 13th 2011 | FOND DU LAC, WISCONSIN | from the print edition
IN A neighbourhood of double garages and tightly cropped lawns, a woman stops her car in the middle of the road and leaps out to tell Randy Hopper, her state senator, how strongly she supports the reforms he and other Republicans legislators have championed in Wisconsin. There were not enough such voters to save Mr Hopper, who was turfed out of office in the middle of his term in a recall election this week. But there were enough of them to deny Democrats the majority they were seeking in the state Senate, and to dampen hopes on the left that aggrieved public-sector workers could restore their electoral fortunes nationwide next year.
在有两个车库、草坪修剪非常整齐的街区，一位妇女将车停在马路中间，从车中走出来，告诉州参议员Randy Hopper，她是多么坚定地支持他和其他共和党立法人拥护的威斯康星州的改革方案。像这样挽救Randy Hopper的选民并不多，本周的罢免选举中，Randy Hopper在任期内被扫地出门。但是否决民主党的选民到处都是，民主党是州参议院寻求的大多数，而且抑制左派希望，权利受损的公共部门的员工可以帮助民主党明年在全国范围重获多数选民支持。
In February the Republicans who control the state legislature had tried to push through a “budget repair” bill which aimed to reduce spending in part by severely restricting collective bargaining for the public sector. Government employees were to be stripped of any say in their benefits, while their pay, in future, would rise no faster than the consumer price index. The Democratic minority in the Senate, lacking the votes to block the bill, instead fled the state, depriving the chamber of a quorum. It was only after the Republicans worked out a parliamentary manoeuvre to get around the quorum requirement and pass the collective-bargaining reforms, three weeks later, that they returned, vowing to use every means at their disposal to avenge the Republican assault on labour.
One of those tools is recall elections, which Wisconsin allows for any public official, provided that they are at least a year into their current term and enough voters sign a petition. The main object of the Democrats’ ire, Governor Scott Walker, had been elected barely three months prior to the beginning of the row, as had all of the state representatives and half of the state senators; they cannot yet be recalled. So the Democrats focused instead on recalling the eight Republican senators over a year into their terms who had voted for the reforms. The Republicans, not to be outdone, decided to try to recall eight Democratic senators who had absconded.
The Democrats only managed to drum up enough signatures to force six of the Republicans to face the voters again, on August 9th. Had they won three of those races, they would have gained control of the Senate, which would have allowed them to stymie any new Republican initiatives they disliked. In the end, however, they won only two. Moreover, two Democrats face recalls of their own next week, which could conceivably take the two parties back to square one.
The Democrats argue that it was a victory simply to get sufficient numbers of voters worked up enough to force the recall elections in the first place. The Republican senators whom they took on were last elected in 2008, a good year for Democrats, so were always going to be hard to dislodge. There clearly has been a small swing in the Democrats’ favour since 2008, and a bigger one relative to their dire showing in 2010. But their failure to win a more sweeping victory nevertheless puts paid to their claim that a clear majority of ordinary Wisconsinites find the governor’s agenda too extreme.
What all this means for the rest of the country is unclear, to say the least. The dispute has definitely riled many in Wisconsin: turnout was much higher than in most special elections. But it was still lower than in a typical presidential year. That makes it hard to infer anything much about next year’s elections, when voters are likely to be more numerous but perhaps less inflamed. One thing seems certain, however: the Democratic fantasy of an irresistible leftward swing among voters outraged by Republican extremism is just that.