Wisconsin Democrats have won the last two of nine state Senate recall elections held over the course of the summer, meaning that the opponents of Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on collective-bargaining rights have prevailed in the majority of recall elections and claimed the majority of votes cast in what many saw as a statewide referendum on Walker’s policies.
Democratic state Senator Bob Wirch of Kenosha won his southeastern Wisconsin district with 58 percent of the vote Tuesday, while Democratic Senator Jim Holperin won his northern Wisconsin district with 55 percent.
Holperin won by a significantly wider margin than he gained in his 2008 campaign, while Wirch more than doubled the margin he won in his last closely contested race—a 2004 match-up with Reince Priebus, who went on to become chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Their wins come on the heels of victories last week by two Democratic challengers to Republican senators who faced recall votes.
That means that Democrat have narrowed the Republican advantage in the Wisconsin Senate to a razor-thin 17-16 split, which puts a moderate Republican senator who opposed Walker’s assault on collective-bargaining rights in a position to work with Democrats to temper the extremes of the governor and his allies.
Republicans point out that the Democrats did not succeed in taking control of the state Senate, an ardent hope of the opposition party and its allies as their pursued their efforts to oust GOP senators in last week’s recall voting in Republican districts across the state.
But the final tallies from a summer of recall elections confirm that the governor and his allies have suffered not just defeats in districts located in the north, south, east and west of the state but also a serious blow to their authority inside the state Capitol.
“Scott Walker’s working majority in the Wisconsin state Senate is over,” announced the labor-backed group We Are Wisconsin after Tuesday night’s big wins for the Democrats were declared. “[The] chamber now boasts a pro-worker majority that would not have passed the Budget Repair Bill that touched off this entire fight.”
That is not hyperbole. The sixteen Senate Democrats—fourteen who went to Illinois in February and March to block legislative action on the governor’s proposal and two new members who beat Republican incumbents who sided with the governor—all are defenders of collective-bargaining rights. Add to that total moderate Republican state Senator Dale Schultz, who broke with his caucus to oppose the Budget Repair, and it is indeed the case that the Senate majority is now at odds with the governor on the issue that provoked last winter’s mass demonstrations against the governor’s agenda and the recalls.
The last of the summer’s recall elections took place six months after Governor Walker proposed his plan to strip away collective-bargaining protections that had been enjoyed for five decades by state, county and municipal employees and teachers, and five months after the governor’s legislative allies passed the measure without any Democratic votes.