Tuesday’s recall election in Wisconsin is the culmination of a long political campaign waged by the left to reverse the results of the watershed 2010 election, and to prevent reforms that might be imitated elsewhere. These included: tax cuts for job-creating businesses, spending reductions to turn deficits into surplus, and collective bargaining reforms that freed state and local governments from the onerous cost of union benefits.
As important as the 2010 election was nationwide, it was even more dramatic in Wisconsin. It brought Gov. Scott Walker to office, but also swept aside liberal stalwart Sen. Russell Feingold and ended the career of veteran Democrat Rep. David Obey. It boosted Rep. Paul Ryan to the head of the House Budget Committee, and eventually saw Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus take over the Republican National Committee.
Gov. Walker’s first move was to declare the state “open for business,” hanging a sign to that effect on the Wisconsin-Illinois border--a sign of Walker’s determination to attract jobs fleeing Illinois and other union-dominated, high-tax and high-spending Midwestern states. By lowering taxes on businesses and balancing the state budget by focusing on spending cuts, Walker sought to transform the state’s economy and its political culture.
Next came Walker’s infamous collective bargaining reforms--legislation that ended the privilege enjoyed by public sector unions to sit on both sides of the negotiating table when wrestling with state and local government over employee benefits and work rules. The reforms also made union dues optional for public employees. (Shrewdly, Walker exempted public safety employees from the reforms--a lesson that Ohio’s Republican leaders failed to learn when their own collective bargaining reforms were defeated.)
As Walker would later point out, the end of mandatory dues was what worried union bosses the most. Teachers’ unions were also scared to lose their monopoly over the health insurance market in school districts state-wide. But they quickly framed their self-interest as “workers’ rights,” and made their fight against Walker into a national cause.