Recalling GOP Senators Not Enough to Set New Course for Wisconsin

Roger Bybee

Progressives must popularize an alternative to current system — and pressure Dems

The progressive response to Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to transform Wisconsin government into an instrument of, by, and for the investor class gained important ground last week.

First, Walker’s administration finally obeyed a clear-cut legal ruling that his public-sector union-busting bill is not yet in effect. And this week, folks in the La Crosse area gathered enough signatures on petitions to stage a recall election against Republican Sen. Dan Kapanke. Labor and progressives have targeted eight Republican State Senators for recall.

The recall petition drive was aided immensely by Bold Progressives, which gathered donations in increments as small as $3 to air hard-hitting, superbly-crafted TV ads about the Republican war against the middle class.” Other recall drives are also running very well, and contributions to Bold Progressives will reinforce these efforts in Wisconsin.

But while the past few days have been very encouraging, the labor movement and progressives must recognize that we have a unique opportunity to go beyond delivering some very satisfying political payback.”

It will surely be a great pleasure to recall and replace some of the most arrogant and ruthless politicians Wisconsin has seen since the days of the maniacal Sen. Joe McCarthy.

Still, clearing out some of the most reactionary deadwood from the legislature (and even perhaps the Governor’s Mansion) won’t be enough to take the state out of the very real (as opposed to Walker-manufactured) problems that we face. 

Eight years of moderate Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and 2.5 years of Barack Obama have barely dented Wisconsin’s loss of family-supporting jobs, diminishing healthcare coverage, demise of family farmers, and the plague of home foreclosures.


When the Democrats have been in power, they have failed to break out of a kinder, gentler version of worshipping the business climate” practiced so brutally by the Republicans.

While Gov. Walker marks a new low point in the state’s subservience to corporate power and contempt for the majority, we should not forget that it was Democrats who enacted the most massive corporate tax cuts in the state’s history in 1973.

The fact remains that a sizable number of Democratic legislators — while deserving credit for their firm stance against union-busting — still continue to believe that more corporate incentives” and tax cuts result in new jobs. This is not a matter of blame; it reflects the difficulties of developing and popularizing genuine alternatives within the existing system.

While Wisconsin has been cutting corporate taxes for the past 40 years, we have witnessed a non-stop hollowing out of our productive base. Tax breaks have kept flowing into corporate treasuries while high-paying jobs have continued flowing out from Wisconsin to the low-wage South, Mexico, and China.

Milwaukee alone has lost a stunning 80% of its manufacturing jobs, which helps to explain why it is now America’s 4th poorest city.

The Wisconsin Uprising shows that we can and must do far more than merely elect run-of-the-mill Democrats to replace reactionary Republicans. We need much more than an electoral strategy to expel Republicans who have over-played their hand.

We require a bold alternative political coalition to both develop a New Deal-style economic plan for Wisconsin, and to serve as an independent voice to maintain pressure on Democrats to use public resources to create jobs and rebuild our decaying communities.

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.
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