Wisconsin recall elections begin, a legacy of Scott Walker's labor union wars
Nine Wisconsin senators are targets of recall elections, some of which got under way Tuesday. If Democrats pick up seats, it would signal a voter backlash against GOP Gov. Scott Walker and his tough stance toward labor unions.
Remember the Wisconsin recall efforts, in which angry voters on both sides of the aisle sought to punish state lawmakers for their roles in Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial move to end collective bargaining and other union rights?Skip to next paragraph
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On Tuesday, voters in a handful of districts can finally weigh in on those lawmakers targeted in the recalls. It’s possible – but unlikely – that the elections could even change the power dynamic in the state Senate, if Democrats were to gain the three seats they need to take control.
The recall elections will gauge the political pulse in a highly divided state that is likely to be a pivotal swing state in the 2012 presidential contest.
“This is the first real electoral test of the staying power of the [collective bargaining] issue,” says Jeff Mayers, president of Wispolitics.com, a nonpartisan political website in Madison. “Does it have electoral legs – that’s what everyone is watching to see.”
But don’t look for answers right away.
Tuesday’s vote is just the first of four elections that will take place over the next month, in a complex series of primaries and general elections that is sending voters to the polls at an odd time of year.
To understand it all, it helps to think of the votes not as recalls but as special elections, in which lawmakers are being forced to defend their seats ahead of schedule. The six Republican senators being challenged – by Democrats angry over their roles in Governor Walker’s legislation – would have had to face reelection Tuesday, but state Republicans helped buy them some more time by putting up Republican candidates as Democrats (“protest candidates," according to the GOP; "fake Democrats," according to the Democrats) so as to force a Democratic primary and buy GOP legislators another month.
"If there weren't primaries in these races, our Republican senators would have had to face elections just days after voting on the state budget, essentially giving them no time to campaign," Stephan Thompson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, told Fox News.
The actual general election will be held a month later, on Aug 9.
Next Tuesday, meanwhile, three Democratic senators will have to defend themselves. They are among those who fled the state in a bid to prevent a vote on the governor's budget plan. Though Democrats haven’t put up protest candidates, two of those elections also have multiple GOP challengers, and so will hold a primary next week rather than a general election, and the general election will take place Aug. 16.
If the procedures seem somewhat arcane, many observers are nonetheless looking at these elections for insight into the mood of the electorate in Wisconsin, which more than any other state has symbolized the angry partisan divide around union politics, in particular.