In their first chance to go to the polls since Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his all-out attack on unions and collective bargaining in February, Wisconsin voters on April 5 overwhelming defeated Walker's hand-picked successor as Milwaukee County executive and propelled an underdog into a dead heat with Walker's ally in a statewide race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, who held a lead of about 200 votes in the state Supreme Court race against Walker favorite and incumbent David Prosser, declared victory. A recount is likely. Kloppenburg's showing is stunning. In the first round of voting, Prosser led by 30 percentage points, and he has outspent Kloppenburg by nearly $1 million. If her lead holds, it will be only the second time in nearly 45 years that an incumbent has lost a race for a high court seat.
In the Milwaukee executive race, Democrat Chris Abele crushed state Rep. Jeff Stone (R), who twice voted for Walker's bill to eliminate public service workers' bargaining rights. Abele's campaign highlighted Stone's support for Walker and his attack on workers.
The state Supreme Court race, in particular, became a referendum on Walker. Prosser's campaign had vowed last year that he would be a "complement" to Walker and the newly elected Republican legislative majority. In a matter of weeks, working families and the allies who stood with them during weeks of protests in Madison mobilized for Kloppenburg to turn around the election. As former Wisconsin AFL-CIO president David Newby told the Capital Times: "There was so little time to organize, to get the information out. … I've never seen anything like it in all the years I've been involved in union politics."
The election results represent a clear message from teachers, students, nurses, state workers, college faculty and staff, and other hardworking citizens of Wisconsin about their willingness to stand up and speak out for what is right. The record voter turnout (on a par with turnout levels in presidential elections) and the strong showings by worker-friendly candidates in recall districts bode well for recall efforts against state representatives who supported Walker's anti-worker bill.
These election results also should fuel enthusiasm in Ohio, where a citizens' coalition is preparing to conduct a petition drive to repeal Gov. John Kasich's anti-worker budget bill. The launch of that drive is Saturday, and the coalition has 90 days to collect the more than 230,000 signatures needed to put the issue before voters in November. It took the coalition just 48 hours to gather more than three times the signatures needed to file initial petitions with the Ohio secretary of state. [AFL-CIO Now, Dan Gursky]
April 6, 2011