Wisconsin Was a Win

The conventional wisdom on the recall elections in Wisconsin is that they were a failure. Democrats only won two of the six seats up for recall, and failed to capture a majority in the state senate. At The Prospect, Harold Meyerson saw the results as a “sobering” reminder of union weakness in an age of reactionary power. Likewise, in a comparison to the 2010 special election in Massachusetts – where Republican Scott Brown triumphed over Democrat Martha Coakley for the state’s vacant Senate seat – Slate’s Dave Weigel concluded that “Voters then and there were angrier about the health care law than voters now and here were angry about Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.”

It’s certainly disappointing that Democrats and pro-union activists weren’t able to flip the Wisconsin state senate in their direction, but as Freddie DeBoer reminds us at Balloon Juice, it’s worth keeping a little perspective. Since the advent of recall laws in the early 20th century, voters have only made twenty attempts to recall a state legislator. Of those, only thirteen were successful. That labor forced six recall elections in a single year, and found success in two of them, is unprecedented in American history. Far from being a defeat, this was a successful and impressive exercise of strength from Wisconsin progressives.

It also bodes well for the emerging effort to recall Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s conservative, anti-labor governor. Because of the state’s constitution, Walker is only eligble for recall in January 2012, one year after he began his term. To actually place him on the ballot for recall, activists would need to gather 500,000 signatures. This is a huge undertaking – voters have only recalled two governors in the history of the United States – but the success of Tuesday should bolster progressives as they move forward.

As far as presidential politics are concerned, a recall effort against Scott Walker is the best thing that could happen for President Obama’s campaign in the state. The infusion of resources and volunteers from a huge number of sources would bolster Obama’s efforts to boost turnout, and on the other end – if progressives can collect the signatures to put Walker on the ballot – the enthusiasm generated by a presidential campaign could be the push necessary to remove Walker from the governor’s mansion.

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