‘We are in this for the long haul’

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Labor in Wisconsin vows to build on recall victories

A record number of Wisconsin voters went to the polls Aug. 9 in the nation's largest recall election of state lawmakers. Six GOP state senators, who earlier this year had rubber-stamped Gov. Scott Walker's attack on Wisconsin workers and the middle class, had to answer to the voters who put them in office.

The result: Two incumbent senators, who represent traditionally Republican districts, were successfully recalled on Aug. 9. Democratic challengers Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse unseated Sen. Dan Kapanke, and Jessica King of Oshkosh unseated Sen. Randy Hopper. On Aug. 16, Democratic incumbents Sen. Jim Holperin of Conover and Sen. Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie easily outpolled their Republican opponents.

 "We sent two of the worst pro-Walker state senators out of Madison,” says AFT-Wisconsin president Bryan Kennedy. "We have picked up two crucial seats and elected two terrific advocates for working families." August's election results "show that the middle class is saying enough," he says.

 AFT president Randi Weingarten praised the Wisconsin effort, calling it a "grass-roots movement started seven months ago by the people of Wisconsin to stand up to a new governor who wants to blame working people for a recession they did not create, and use it to diminish voting rights, a voice at work and access to a great public education. They did something incredible: They stood up and forced a recall election for six Republicans, all of whom were from solidly GOP districts, and picked up two of those seats."

To put it in context: According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, since 1908 there have been only 20 recorded state legislative recall elections in the United States. Wisconsin will hold nine in the space of a month. Scholars interviewed for the article could cite only three instances in U.S. history when more than one state legislator has been recalled at roughly the same time over the same issue.

Emma Palmer, who teaches office technology at the Milwaukee Area Technical College and is a member of the college's AFT local, was one of the many volunteers who supported the effort to recall the state senators. "We need lawmakers who are motivated to serve us all," says Palmer, who is determined to help rid the state of lawmakers who only represent the interests of corporations and big business.

The people of Wisconsin have started something important—building and awakening alliances of individuals who understand the power of democracy, the power of voice and collective action, and that government has to work for all its citizens. [Kathy Nicholson, AFT-Wisconsin]

 August 11, 2011 (Updated August 16, 2011)