Dems gain 2 State Senate seats in recall elections, but fail to secure needed majority


Story Transcript

DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: Wisconsin’s last round of recall elections came to a close on Tuesday as voters took to the polls to decide the future of two state senate seats held by Democrats. Democratic Wisconsin state senators Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch were able to avoid recalls and maintain their positions in the state legislature, which is now comprised of 17 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Democrats were able to pick up two seats the previous week, after voters recalled two of the six Republican senators in special elections, though they failed to win the three seats needed to secure a Democratic majority in the state senate. While some leaders in the Democratic Party are celebrating the two successful recalls as a victory, many other elements of the opposition to Governor Scott Walker and state Republicans were disappointed with the results.

ALLEN RUFF, RADIO HOST, WORT 89.9 FM: We needed three to regain us a majority in the state senate, and have now fallen, of course, one short. So the Republicans still hold a majority. I think that left a lot of people demoralized. There were lots of folks who campaigned almost full-time–lots of trade union people, lots of rank-and-filers, going on phone banks and door to door in these Republican districts, again, hoping to unseat the standing Republican senators. One thing’s quite obvious, that there were uphill battles to begin with. The recall attempts against the Republicans were made in fairly solid Republican districts, one against this senator, Olsen, this Republican senator, Olsen. There hadn’t–it’s been a Republican district for 100 years, over 100 years.

DOUGHERTY: The recall elections began as part of an opposition strategy to the controversial policies of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, including the elimination of collective bargaining rights for most public employees. As much of the movement’s energy was actively shifted from mass mobilizations to electoral efforts, many are now asking whether leaders could have called for a more multifaceted strategy to better resist Walker’s policies.

RUFF: At the start of the–oh, back in, say, March, certainly, the Democratic leadership was calling for people to basically immobilize. We heard from the rostrums and the stages here at the last big rallies in Madison some officials–some trade union officials and some Democratic leadership–saying that they no longer wanted people to come out for the big rallies and demonstrations, that they should go home to their home districts and get involved entirely in recall. And many of us watching that process said, well, there’s much more to that, there’s much more to what’s going on than electoral campaigns, that electoral campaigns, by their very nature, can dissipate energy and force people back into tried and true, and sometimes failed, not always victorious campaigns. It was important for–to maintain, some of us thought, the mobilizations and that such things as direct action, demonstrations, actions at those corporate centers that support Walker, possibly job actions or the targeting of employers, Republican employers, that kind of thing, to keep people mobilized and to keep a motion going, that that was as important, if not more so, than a simple focus on recalls.

DOUGHERTY: Many Democrat and Republican Party members and affiliates at the national level have viewed the developments in Wisconsin as a testing ground for broader emerging trends in the United States surrounding issues like workers rights and privatization. Record amounts of money were poured into the campaign efforts ahead of Wisconsin recall elections, with many corporate financial contributions flowing in from out of state.

RUFF: Certainly, there was massive amounts of spending that went on in the campaigns, and in most of the spending, especially of that money, a lot of which came from out of state, went overwhelmingly to the Republican campaigns, to the candidates. As much as twice the amount of money went to the Republican candidates from our state and in state to defeat the offensive by the Democrats. Of course, now, in this age where corporations are viewed as individuals and there’s no ceilings, really, on the amount of money that these corporations and think tanks and foundations and various fronts can pump into these campaigns, the sky is the limit.

DOUGHERTY: With the disappointing results of the recall, activists in Wisconsin and elsewhere are looking at forms of fighting back in addition to and outside of mainstream electoral processes.

RUFF: In much the same way that the rest of the country, certainly progressives and the labor movement and so on, took inspiration from the initial upsurge in Wisconsin and has looked to Wisconsin as a leader in this fight against imposed austerity nationally, a neoliberal agenda nationally, a lot of the country was looking toward Wisconsin to see what would happen with these recalls. And so I think there was a parallel development around the country of people seeing this as a defeat. But we could also see other things in motion, such as the ongoing Verizon strike, lots of people in motion outside of the electoral arena realizing that they have to fight back, you have to fight back where you are and get involved in all forms of collective action and not confine themselves, again, to just simply or solely the electoral arena.

DOUGHERTY: For now there is little that the opposition in Wisconsin can do to challenge Governor Walker’s agenda through electoral channels until later this year, with an effort to recall Governor Walker is set to commence. The Wisconsin governor can be recalled after holding office for a year, which he will complete in January 2012. In Ohio, a campaign opposed to public-sector union busting bill SB 5 successfully collected more than 1.3 million signatures, which will allow for a vote in November to repeal the bill. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

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