Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s flight to last week’s National Governor’s Association meeting in Salt Lake City got canceled and he ended up sleeping on the floor of the Denver airport.
That may turn out to be the highlight of Walker’s summer.
Last Tuesday, “real” Democrats won all six primary elections to choose challengers to six Republican state senators who had backed Walker’s agenda of attacking unions, undermining the authority of local governments and school boards, selling off state assets to friendly corporations and cutting more than $1.5 billion in funding for schools and local services.
The Republicans were so scared of the recall challenges to the Walker-allied senators that they ran “fake” Democrats—Republican activists posing as Democrats—in the primaries. The GOP ginned up last-minute stealth campaigns to try to beat the real Democrats. But the strategy failed miserably. The real Democrats won their races with as much as 70 percent of the vote. And now the party has a muscular slate of primary winners (three state representatives, a former county executive, a former deputy mayor and a popular teacher) heading into the August 9 recall races with the Republican senators.
That was a bad Tuesday for the governor.
But this this Tuesday was even worse for Walker.
The first clear test of the recall season, a race between Democratic Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay and Republican challenger Dave VanderLeest, produced a big win for the Democrats.
Hansen is one of the Democratic legislators who traveled to Illinois in February in order to deny the governor and his allies the quorum they needed to rush passage of their anti-labor initiatives. VanderLeest is a Walker enthusiast, was not the GOP’s first choice to take on Hansen. (The party’s preferred contender failed to gather enough signatures to secure a place on the ballot. As such, Republicans were stuck with a candidate who; according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has a record that includes “a couple of disorderly conduct convictions, $25,000 in unpaid property taxes and allegations of domestic abuse.”)
But, despite the Republican’s liabilities, the partisan divide is so intense in Wisconsin that the Hansen-VanderLeest provided a classic “Which Side Are You On?” choice.
Hansen was backed by the Wisconsin unions and farm, environmental and community groups that have been battling Walker since February.
VanderLeest was backed by Walker’s allies—a dwindling group in a new University of Wisconsin “Badger Poll” is right in suggesting that 59 percent of Wisconsinites now disapprove of the governor’s approach.
The result? Hansen won 66 percent to VanderLeest’s 34 percent. In the high-turnout election. Hansen, who ran an an unapologetic defender of labor rights, beat his challenger by more than 16,000 votes.