Wisconsin Recall Unions

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's survival in a recall election sparked by steps to weaken public unions could embolden fellow Republicans in other states to seek similar measures.

"He's one of the Republican governors who has been out on the point on this issue about whether there are excesses in public employee unions in terms of their pension plans or health care plans and so forth," noted CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, calling the topic a "very, very hot issue" across the country.

At least 19 states have passed or considered legislation involving collective bargaining rights in the past two years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Wisconsin recall effort was spurred by a Walker-backed Republican measure, signed into law in March 2011, to limit the collective bargaining rights of state worker unions.

During a bitter fight over the law last year, Democratic legislators left the capital to prevent a quorum, and tens of thousands of protesters converged on the State Capitol building in what became an occupation.

After the law was signed, Democrats and their labor allies immediately began a recall effort that eventually led to Tuesday's vote.

The AFL-CIO in Wisconsin, which worked in favor of the recall, defended the effort to oust Walker.

"We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hardworking people," the group said in a statement. "Their resolve has inspired a nation to follow their lead and stand up for the values of hard work, unity, and decency that we believe in. We hope Scott Walker heard Wisconsin: Nobody wants divisive policies."

Democrats complained that Walker benefited from a huge spending advantage due to tens of millions of dollars for his cause brought in from outside the state. Voters were inundated with campaign ads and door-to-door canvassing in the fierce battle, which was cited for increasing political intolerance in Wisconsin.

To Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that pumped more than $10 million into the state backing Walker's policies, the recall campaign sent a message that the Republican Party machine and its backers will help colleagues willing to take on the tough battles.

"I think every governor, every state legislator around the country is looking at Wisconsin, and they're going, 'OK, if I got the courage to stand up and do what I think is right to get my state moving again ... will someone have my back?' " Phillips said before Tuesday's vote. "And hopefully the answer is going to be, you bet."

Walker's message -- that state workers unions had too much power and were preventing necessary budget cuts -- resonated with voters, Gergen said.

After spending a few days in Wisconsin during the campaign, "I can tell you a lot of people, small business people in particular, were talking about that these unions are costing too much money," he added. "And it was not about the ads. It was not about the ground game. It was people just deciding they couldn't afford it."

The victory by Walker is "a substantial defeat for labor, for public employees unions, and a substantial victory for those who have been trying to curb them" Gergen concluded.

President Barack Obama easily won Wisconsin in 2008, but the Republican victory Tuesday now puts the state in play in the November general election, analysts agreed.

Republican strategist Ari Fleischer noted Obama mostly stayed out of race that was so important to the labor movement.

Obama publicly backed Walker's opponent, Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, but neglected to stop in Wisconsin to campaign with him even though he was next door in Illinois last week.

"I have a hard time seeing big labor returning to Wisconsin this fall to put in a lot of effort for President Obama since he didn't show up there for them this year," said Fleischer, a CNN contributor.

Gergen concurred, saying: "If the president had gone in and been loyal to labor, I think labor would be more loyal to him. Whether he can count on them under these circumstances, I'm not sure."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters Wednesday there were "mixed feelings" about Obama's involvement. Asked if campaigning by the president would have made a difference, Trumka said he didn't know.

"This is just the opening shot of a battle that is going to go on until November," he said of the Tuesday vote.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, told CNN that Wisconsin voters were tired of continuous recall efforts by Democrats since the 2010 election that brought Walker to the governor's office.

"I think it was overreach by the labor unions," McDonnell said. "This is the third recall. They tried a judge, legislators, and now governor, and I think people realize this is too much."

Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach agreed, noting on CNN that "people are sick of recalls in Wisconsin."

"The exit polling shows that people in Wisconsin support public employees strongly, they support the right of collective bargaining," Erpenbach said. "By sending Gov. Walker back to the governor's residence, obviously I think what people are saying is not so much about the policies, just that they've had it with recalls and they feel very strongly that removing Gov. Walker from office right now for what he's done isn't the right way to go."

Gergen warned Republicans, including certain presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to avoid overplaying the Wisconsin result by launching a broad attack on public unions.

"I think he can certainly give voice to a lot of the restlessness and resentments and that sort of thing that are stirring against some of the excesses in labor unions," Gergen said of Romney, "but what I hope he does not do is declare war on public employee unions. I think that would be a terrible mistake. There are some things that need to be fixed, but we don't need a war."


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