Today, Wisconsin voters head to the polls in the hope of recalling six Republican state senators who helped push Governor Scott Walker's union-busting agenda through the legislature. Democrats and other supporters of workers' rights have spent weeks organizing and protesting in preparation for the elections, which are a referendum on Walker's attack on collective-bargaining, education, health care, and Planned Parenthood.
Five of the six Democratic challengers are women. EMILY's List, the campaign organization dedicated to electing pro-choice, Democratic women to political office, has been aiding their campaigns. The Prospect spoke with Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY's List, about what the recall means for women.
How did we end up in a situation in which five of six candidates in Wisconsin are women?
The fact that five of six are Democratic women, we haven't seen that in, well, have we ever seen that? I mean, women are only 17 percent of Congress right now. This is huge.
What I think we're already seeing this year in 2011, and we're going to see a lot more of in 2012, is that the entire debate going on in Congress, in state legislatures, and all around the country is really being driven by Republicans' war on women. Republicans want to dismantle our education system, tear apart our health-care system, change Medicare, knock out Social Security, and, of course, defund Planned Parenthood. They are attacking programs that have been set up to ensure the economic security and provide opportunities for women and children in this country. Women are just fed up. Enough's enough.
Several state legislatures as well as U.S. House congressional seats that went Republican in 2010 were places where women were drop-off voters, meaning they didn't show up at the polls as they did in 2008. How is that trend looking right now?
That trend is turning around. We see this regularly: Democratic women vote very well in a presidential year, and then in the midterm elections, their participation tends to drop off. These are folks who live incredibly busy lives. These are single moms who are working two jobs, may have a few kids -- they're picking them up after school, getting dinner on the table, and sending those kids to bed. And all of a sudden it's nine o'clock at night, and they're like, oh right, this is Election Day -- 2010 was a particularly bad year. When women go out and vote, and really, not just Democratic women but independent women as well, Democrats tend to win.
How are you reaching out to women voters in Wisconsin?
What we have found, even just in recent research, is that the best way to get women out to the polls is to have face-to-face conversations with women voters. And what we are doing in Wisconsin, which I'm incredibly excited about, is asking women -- and men who are supportive of our cause -- to get on the phones and do phone-banking from wherever they're sitting and talk to women voters in Wisconsin about the importance of getting out and voting on August 9.
A lot of different groups are starting to get involved in the election, including conservative anti-abortion groups. To what degree is this election about women's issues?
I think this election is really about the overreach of the Republican Party in Wisconsin and will be the foreshadowing of what the 2012 election will be. In this case, the main driver here is about collective bargaining. So it's going to be about the economy and about the ability for women to have opportunities to succeed: education, collective bargaining, health care, the ability for women to make their own personal choices in their lives. All of those are wrapped up together here.
When Governor Walker comes in and says, "We're going to dismantle collective bargaining for these union members," these union members he's talking about are teachers and nurses. These are unions with massive women's membership. I mean, nationwide, elementary school teachers are 90 percent women. Nursing is 95 percent women. So we only make 78 cents to the dollar now, what's going to happen if those union members can't bargain collectively?
Given that a few of these districts where women are running are traditionally conservative, what does the state of these races mean?
I'm going to be just thrilled if the Democrats in fact take back the state senate in Wisconsin. We are trying to defeat some pretty solidly Republican state senators here in districts that are mighty conservative. So we need three of six, and we're focusing on getting there. If we end up seeing three of these five win, I'm going to be jumping up and down for joy. And I'll just flat fall off my chair if all five do.
Citizens United changed the election landscape by allowing vast amounts of outside money into elections. In Wisconsin, the name of the conservative billionaire Koch brothers has been thrown around a lot. There are so-called Super PACs that don't have to disclose their funders. How is this shaping the races in Wisconsin today?
It's incredibly difficult to keep up with the Koch brothers and Karl Rove and these organizations. I know that in at least two of these districts, the Democrats are now getting outspent pretty significantly. They're coming in late; they're dropping in a lot of money on television. There's another group that's providing misinformation about when the election is. And Lord knows where all this money is coming from, because they don't have to file anywhere. We've got to really be smart with the resources that we have. We have to do this on the ground. It's going to be tough.