Unions Have the Most at Stake in Wisconsin's Recall Elections

Democrats will gain control of the state senate if they take three seats from Republicans

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Tuesday night Wisconsin holds recall elections for six state senators, and even after months of TV ads and nationwide attention, no one knows how many people will show up. Sure, the vote is in part a referendum on the state's controversial governor, Scott Walker, First Read writes, but "no one has more to win or lose tonight than organized labor."

A quick refresher on the Wisconsin drama: In February, labor supporters protested for weeks in Wisconsin's capital as Walker tried to push through legislation to curb the power of public unions to bargain collectively. Democratic state senators fled the state to deny a quorum, making it impossible to pass the bill. Eventually, in March, Republicans found a way to pass it anyway. So Democrats quickly launched a signature drive to recall some of the Republican senators who backed the union bill. In turn, Republicans forced a recall election of three Democrats. The law took effect in June. The number of recall votes is unprecedented: Recall Elections Blog points out that since the first recall laws were passed in 1908, there have been only 20 legislative recall votes total. Wisconsin will have nine this summer.
Typically, a very small percentage voters show up for these kinds of elections (can you name your state legislators?). But Politico's David Catanese reports that "a few local officials are predicting presidential-election level turnout." High turnout would most likely help Democrats: So far, outside interest groups have spent almost $30 million on advertising about the election, two-thirds of that backing Democrats. The Washington Post's Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza report that it's looking "more and more possible" that Republicans will lose at least three of the seats. That would give Democrats control of the state senate, and create a big hurdle for Walker if he wants to get more conservative legislation passed. But they argue you can't draw too many national conclusions from that outcome, because A) the vote has drawn such intense outside scrutiny and B) Walker's budget-cutting has been the most aggressive of the fiscally hawkish governors pushing to limit union power across the Midwest this year.
Indeed, First Read says that the recalls mean less for either party than they do for labor unions. "These have hardly been glory years for organized labor," they write, with President Obama's failure in 2009 to pass a bill making it more easy to unionize and the public relations beating labor's taken in the fight over Boeing's relocation of a factory from union Washington to non-union South Carolina. The union-busting bills passed in Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin were a punch in the face for Big Labor, they write, and Tuesday "we find out if labor can punch back..."
"Publicly, Wisconsin Democrats are oozing confidence," Mother Jones' Andy Kroll writes. "But in private, representatives of left-leaning groups are biting their nails about the razor-thin margins separating Democrats and Republicans in several of the races." Polls close at 9 p.m. eastern time.
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