Observers at both ends of the ideological spectrum are dubbing next month's gubernatorial do-over in Wisconsin "the second most important election" in America this year, and for good reason. Gov. Scott Walker ran as a conservative who pledged to do what was necessary to restore order to his state's red-stained balance sheets, winning the 2010 election by six points over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Upon taking office, Walker and his GOP legislative majorities moved swiftly to enact crucial budget reforms. The Left is irate over the law's provisions that strip some collective bargaining privileges from government unions -- even as those privileges remain more generous than those of federal workers. The law also requires government workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their own pensions (roughly the national average), and 12.6 percent of their health care coverage costs (almost half of the national average). During the budget debate, elected Democrats fled the state in a failed attempt to obstruct a vote. Organized labor mobilized to drum up mass protests, some of which bordered on riots. Chilling threats were leveled Despite Big Labor's shrill and sustained fury, Walker's reforms are in the process being implemented. And they're working. Thus far, the new budget fix has prevented thousands of government worker layoffs, dramatically improved Wisconsin's business climate, helped the state unemployment rate drop to 6.8 percent, and transformed a massive deficit into an annual surplus, earning a "credit positive" rating from Moody's:
Just over a year later, Walker and the Republicans in the state legislature have nearly eliminated the deficit. For the two-year budget cycle, the state will show a $143 million shortfall because the stagnant economy has resulted in lower tax receipts than had been projected. But the shortfall is for the first half of the cycle; Wisconsin will run a surplus in the current fiscal year. And Walker said last week that he will eliminate the remaining shortfall without raising taxes.
Badger State Republicans accomplished all of this without raising taxes. In fact, many Wisconsin taxpayers are seeing their local property tax burden actually decrease for the first time in more than a decade. This result is directly attributable to Walker's reforms, which free local governments from being locked into negotiations with expensive, union-run benefits providers. Even several mainstream media outlets in the state have reported on these positive benefits, pointing out that Democrats' dire predictions of impending catastrophe have not panned out. These reforms are benefiting virtually everyone in the state of Wisconsin, with a few notable exceptions: Government union members (at least those whose jobs weren't saved by Walker's law), and the state Democrat Party, which relies heavily on political contributions from those unions. It's a simple calculus. The weaker public unions become, the less money will flow into Democrat campaign coffers. It's also worth noting that until Walker's law passed, taxpayer-funded unions were allowed to automatically deduct dues from members' paychecks -- money that was quickly filtered to Democrats, whose votes kept the racket going.
In the face of Walker's progress, the Democrat-Union Boss alliance has orchestrated a sore-loser, do-over recall election against the governor. This move to turn back the clock is not motivated any malfeasance or scandal, mind you, but by self-interested opposition to the governor's political achievements. The June 5th election promises to be the final, most expensive, and highest-stakes chapter in this recall saga. (The Left previously failed to oust a conservative state supreme court justice last year, and fell short in its recallpalooza bid to reclaim the state senate). Undeterred by these embarrassing whiffs, Wisconsin's Left is marching ahead because Walker represents the biggest prize of all. A few months back, the incumbent was looking pretty secure in the polls, but after weeks of an overwhelmingly anti-Walker Democratic primary, the general contest has moved back within the margin of error. Barrett appears poised to defeat Big Labor-preferred candidate Kathleen Falk in tomorrow's primary, and is essentially tied with Walker heading into June:
Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, one of the Democratic candidates hoping to face him in the June 5 recall election, are in a virtual dead heat in the days leading up to Tuesday's recall primary, according to a poll released Wednesday. The Marquette University Law School also showed Barrett leading his Democratic rivals in Tuesday's recall primary. Barrett, who lost to Walker in the governor's race in November 2010 by about 123,000 votes, or 5 percentage points, has a 47 percent to 46 percent lead on the governor among registered voters, the poll said. But among likely voters, the situation flips, and Walker leads by 1 percentage point, or 48 percent to 47 percent. Both results are well within the poll's margin of error.
The poll does include some positive nuggets for the Walker campaign:
According to the Marquette poll, 49% of state residents favor the limits on collective bargaining, and 45% opposes them. Mr. Barrett and Ms. Falk have pledged to restore the rights if elected. Mr. Barrett and Mr. Walker are in a statistical dead heat, according to the poll, conducted during the last week of April. It also showed, by a 4-1 margin, that Wisconsin residents believe job creation is a higher priority than the restoration of collective bargaining rights.
Walker has amassed a huge war chest to combat this electoral conniption fit, allowing him to highlight the positive outcomes he's already secured for the state. But unions and Democrats are expected to spend millions to beat him. If they are able to claim Walker's scalp, that result would send a chilling message to Republican reformers across the country: If you govern responsibly, deep-pocketed Left-wing interests will isolate you and launch a vendetta-fueled campaign against you're driven from office. Some courageous leaders won't care, but many will. Others simply won't run for office in the first place. Who in their right mind would willingly subject their family to hoards of angry protesters, and endure endless attacks and personal threats? Defeating the Left's recall effort against Scott Walker is about so much more than Wisconsin state politics. It's about the future of our country, and whether we as a nation will allow the organized Left to use intimidation and lies to beat back the types of reforms that are sorely needed from coast to coast. If Wisconsin's conservative success story can be twisted into a defeat, it will embolden the professional Left, and more states will begin to resemble Democrat-run California, New York and Illinois -- where tax burdens are on the rise, businesses are departing, and deficits are so crushing that state bills are going unpaid. In short, Wisconsin is ground zero in the battle for liberty, and conservatives have less than a month to help win it. I'll leave you with two clips: First is a helpful Wisconsin Fact vs Fiction video from the Heritage Foundation, which is packed with helpful statistics and mindless invective from Walker's opponents. Second is a conservative group's attack ad running against Barrett:
UPDATE - Oh my:
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) had scheduled a “Unity Rally” for the evening of Wednesday, May 9th, on the steps of the state capitol. The rally was supposed to feature all the Democratic candidates and others uniting to defeat Walker and expressing support for the winner of the Democratic primary. The DPW has canceled the Unity Rally.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography