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Inside Story: US 2012
Wisconsin: A nail in the coffin of US unions?
As the governor celebrates a recall victory, we ask how the outcome will impact the US presidential race in November.
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2012 12:28

Scott Walker sparked massive protests when he eliminated the collective bargaining rights of most public workers in his state, Wisconsin.

But after months of political turmoil, the Republican US governor claimed a decisive victory in a recall election.

It was one election in one state. But Walker's clear win is being framed by Republicans as a major victory for the party in the lead up to the November presidential elections - and a major defeat for Democrats and labour unions across the country.

"The exit polls show that most people supported collective bargaining and specifically had a positive image of public employee unions … [it didn't] work out in a clear ideological way but we do need to build more support for collective bargaining."

- Robert Kraig, the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin

The political turmoil began more than a year ago, when the state's Republican-controlled legislature voted to curb the rights of union members by sharply limiting their bargaining rights - a move Walker says will help reduce a budget deficit of $3.6bn.

Hundreds of thousands of people began protesting against the law, occupying the state's legislature for months. Wisconsin became a symbol of the battle workers were facing against a Republican Party determined to slash the power of unions.

Some of the other controversial measures taken by Walker include: slashing spending for public education by $800 to $900m; reducing aid to local governments by $96m; backing laws that will cut taxes for corporations and that will see increased pension contributions for some.

Walker's opponents collected more than a million signatures to trigger a recall election. Over the next few months, Walker launched a bitter campaign with tens of millions of dollars spent - making it the most expensive election in the state's history.

The money spent has paid off for Walker, despite the massive on-the-ground operation mounted by progressives in Wisconsin.

"This [recall] is a very rare thing. Walker would've been the third governor in American history to have been recalled [and] the first governor to survive one. This is usually reserved for governors who break the law or something like that."

- Alex Seitz-Wald, a political staff writer at Salon.com

In his victory speech on Tuesday night, Walker talked about moving the state past its divisions but he also stuck to the ideological position that sparked the conflict in the first place: "You know, early in 2011, I rushed in to try and fix things before I talked about it. Because, you see, for years, too many politicians that I'd seen, not only in Madison but in Washington and beyond, talked about things but never fixed them.

"But I want to tell you, looking ahead we know it's important to do both. Looking ahead to tackle the challenges that face all the people of Wisconsin, we're both going to be committed to talking together about how to solve problems and then working together, we're going to move forward with the solutions that put our state back on the right track towards more freedom and more prosperity for all of our people."

In this Inside Story: US 2012 we ask: What are the repercussions of the Wisconsin recall? And what impact will it have on the US presidential race?

To discuss these issues with presenter Shihab Rattansi are guests: Robert Kraig, the executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a coalition of social and economic justice groups; Alex Seitz-Wald, a political staff writer at Salon.com; and Brendan Steinhauser, the federal and state campaigns director at FreedomWorks, a group associated with the conservative Tea Party Movement.

"The policies that we support would help everyone .... We are trying to make the economy better for all workers and regardless of how you feel about the unions we simply can't afford the pensions and the healthcare that the taxpayers have to pay for."

Brendan Steinhauser, the federal and state campaigns director at FreedomWorks


Wisconsin's Republican governor Scott Walker outspent his Democratic rival, Tom Barrett, by a factor of over 7-1, according to the Center for Public Integrity:

  • An estimated $63.5m was spent by candidates and independent groups, making it the most expensive election in Wisconsin history.
  • Two-thirds of the total amount, or $45m, was spent by Walkers' campaign or his supporters, whereas Barrett's campaign and supporters spent just $18.5m.
  • Walker's campaign itself raised $30.5m, and 66 per cent of that came from donors living outside Wisconsin.
  • Barrett raised $3.9m, and 26 per cent of that came from out of state donors.

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Source:
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