Payback Time: Polls Promising as Wis. Unions Ready for GOP Recall Elections

Roger Bybee

Wis. Democrats are leading GOP opponents in some of the recall races, but those opponents have erected some barriers to victory: namely, a new voter ID law and redefined districts.

Heading toward eight remaining recall elections, Wisconsin labor and Democrats gained critical momentum on July 19 as they scored an overwhelming 66-31 percent victory in Green Bay against GOP efforts to punish Democratic State Sen. Dave Hansen, a friend of labor. The remaining elections — called for after the GOP stripped public employees of virtually all bargaining rights this winter and activists occupied the Madison Capitol in protest — will be held August 9 (when six Republicans are up) and August 16 (when two other Democrats face recall efforts).

Over the past two months, Republicans’ claims to be guided solely by budgetary concerns and taxpayer needs have been tainted by their participation in a set of undemocratic measures, including partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts, and what Common Cause of Wisconsin director Jay Heck called the most restrictive, blatantly partisan and ill-conceived voter identification legislation in the nation” (details on these measures below).

But labor and progressives feel encouraged by the most recent polls on the recall races, especially in the context of Gov. Walker’s 59-percent disapproval rating reported July 13. Daily Kos reported poll results last week:

Taken in concert with our last round of polling (conducted a month ago), PPP shows Democrats with a big lead in one race, narrow leads in two races, and trailing by five points or less in three races. In this newest batch, Democratic state Rep. Fred Clark has a small edge against Luther Olsen, which makes this race one of our three best pickup opportunities. Clark’s own internal polling confirms this, showing him ahead as well (by an even larger margin).

In one of the hottest and most closely-watched recall elections (in a northern Milwaukee suburban area that includes many of the area’s super-rich as well as teachers and other public employees and an African-American neighborhood), Daily Kos noted that Democratic challenger Sandy Pasch is probably running a much tighter race than it first appears against GOP Senator Alberta Darling.

Darling formerly posed as a pro-choice moderate” before guzzling the entire right-wing Kool-Aid pitcher to gain power as co-chair of the powerful Joint Finance Committee which rammed though the Republcians’ worst excesses.

As Daily Kos pointed out:

Yesterday on Kos there was a new new PPP [Public Policy Polling] poll for the WI recall election in Senate District 8 between Republican Alberta Darling and Democrat Sandy Pasch. It has Darling up 5 points with almost no undecideds. Since a recent Dem poll had Sandy up one, this is a disappointment. At least at first glance. However, a closer look reveals the same concerns that were raised with the previous PPP poll in SD 8. It appears that this poll also under-represents the strongest Pasch voters in the district: non-whites from the City of Milwaukee. 

Moreover, while the polling result is among likely voters,” the pro-labor, pro-Democratic side has displayed far more intensity in seeking to reverse the course of Wisconsin politics.


Further, with the Republican-contrived primaries over (they recruited fellow Republicans to run against Democrats in order to delay and sow considerable confusion about recall process), the public can now focus on clear-cut choices between Democratic candidates with demonstrated followings and Republican senators whose reputations have been tarnished.

The Republican baggage includes:

  • their extraordinary anti-union votes,
  • their support for an exceptionally punitive budget toward local public education and services, and
  • their collaboration with the most dictatorial procedures and anti-democratic legislation that the Wisconsin Legislature has witnessed in more than a century.

While the Republicans carry this weighty political baggage, the Democrats have a muscular slate of primary winners (three state representatives, a former county executive, a former deputy mayor and a popular teacher) heading into the Aug. 9 recall races with the Republican senators,” as John Nichols of the Capital Times observed.

Meanwhile, against Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin, the Republicans in northern Wisconsin are fiielding Tea Party darling Kim Simac, noted for her pronouncsments including, If you teach evolution, then why not creationism? Why not put a cross in a school? Why not talk about Easter in our schools?”

In the southeastern industrail area around Kenosha, the Republicans are trying to recall popular State Sen. Bob Wirch, a former United Steelworkers union local president, with corporate lawyer Jonathan Seitz, whose efforts in behalf of his clients are likely to yield some interesting revelations.


The redistricting plan is perceived as a nakedly partisan power grab by the Republicans. Although Democrats have won the last five presidential elections in Wisconsin by a 53.4 percent margin, according to State Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee), an expert on re-districting, the GOP plan — which would go into effect next year — would establish between 57 and 59 safe Republican seats in the 99-member State Assembly, with just 40 to 42 safe Democratic seats. 

For Bob Turner, my longtime friend, staunch labor advocate and Democratic representative from Racine, the plan is reminiscent of the kind of the corrupt politics he saw growing up in Mississippi as an African-American:

I grew up in Mississippi where access to the ballot and redistricting was a problem. I never thought we would be dealing with this in Wisconsin. In all my years I have never seen a redistricting process go so poorly. So many people have given their lives, have marched, protested for rights to the ballot and fair representation.

Good-government groups, normally a bit cautious in their rhetoric about possible partisan motivations in legislative proposals, were absolutely scathing in denouncing the Republican plan. Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign similarly pointed to the Republicans’ naked self-interest evident in the plan. McCabe declared:

In a democracy voters are supposed to choose their representatives, not the other way around. This does violence to this basic principle of democracy… You are only here because you are under orders to get this completed ahead of the recall elections in August, because you know you could lose total control over the way these maps are redrawn after those recall elections occur.

Former Wisconsin Democratic Congressman David Obey, with his characteristic directness, labeled the plan as a raw manipulation of power in defiance of the public interest.”

The voter ID plan has been denounced in similar terms by labor and progressives for adding barriers to voting for the poor, people of color and the low-income elderly. (See my article in In These Times’ September issue, which will appear at InThe​se​Times​.com next week). And its credibility is fast disappearing with media reports that the Walker administration is considering closing down or reducing hours at Department of Motor Vehicle offices in Democratic districts.

Almost none of the cumbersome new voting requirements will be in place for the recall elections, but their potential impact is firing up labor and progressives across Wisconsin, rightly worried about a return to large-sacle voter suppression (see here and here.)

Finally, the money question: Labor and its allies must be prepared for a last-minute aerial bombardment of TV ads launched by the Club for Growth and other corporate-funded entities who have been freed of almost all constraints on disclosure and size of donations by the 2010 Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened the door for a corporate takeover of U.S. democracy,” in the words of scholar Noam Chomsky.

While the left is at a financial disadvantage, it has managed to maintain a strong presence with TV ads contrasting the Republicans’ attacks on middle-class living standards, public education and tax justice with the Democrats advocacy in behalf of working people (although the explicitly pro-collective-bargaining edge of most ads has been a bit fuzzy).

Adding it all up, right now the labor movement, progressives and their Democratic allies in Wisconsin have momentum, highly energetic and well-organized local and statewide efforts on the ground (see my recent piece on the Wisconsin Truth Tour”), an increasingly powerful presence on TV, and most of all, a base of exceedingly motivated volunteers and voters.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
Brandon Johnson
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