Ironically, the election may have been the smaller part of a much bigger story. Government unions in Wisconsin have already experienced a precipitous membership fall off after the reforms Mr. Walker and the then-Republican-controlled legislature enacted went in effect. One union in particular, the Wisconsin branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) saw its membership decline by more than half, from 62,818 in March 2011, to 28,745 in February, according to a person who has viewed AFSCME’s figures. A small number of that decline was attributed to worker layoffs. Yet it is very likely that reform eliminating automatic dues collection was the critical factor here. And AFSCME was not alone: 6,000 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) 17,000 Wisconsin members quit as well.
Thus, the long-standing idea that union bosses represent the interests of their members has been dealt a severe blow. It is a blow that has national implications as well. The hundreds of millions of dollars union leaders have spent on political campaigns are overwhelmingly amassed from mandatory dues collections. Dues that can no longer be taken for granted in Wisconsin–with more states likely to follow.
A de facto union monopoly was broken in Wisconsin as well. WEA Trust, a health insurance company created by the state’s largest teachers union in 1970, was routinely gouging its members for health insurance, because union contracts insisted that it provide insurance to most of the state’s school districts. Prior to reform, coverage for single-employees was $734 for schools with WEA Trust, and $614 for schools that contracted with other companies. Reform eliminated unions’ ability to advocate for WEA Trust, allowing schools to contract with other companies. As a result, WEA Trust has been forced to significantly lower its prices to remain competitive. The reduction allowed the Appleton school district to save $3 million per year. Since Wisconsin has hundreds of school districts, hundreds of millions of dollars in savings could eventually be realized. Add to the mix a $3 billion budget deficit that has been eliminated, a dropping unemployment rate now sitting below the national average, and lower property taxes, and it is clear the efforts of Scott Walker and state Republicans who were handed control in the 2010 election have made their mark.
The people of Wisconsin now seem to have validated those reforms as well, and the margin of victory for both Walker and Kleefisch exceeded even the most optimistic polling data in their favor. In addition, all four GOP Senators also facing recalls triumphed over their Democratic opponents — by large double-digit margins in each case. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) beat Lori Compas (D-Fort Atkinson) in the 13th Senate District; Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) beat Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) in the 21st Senate District; Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) beat Rep. Kristin Dexter (D-Eau Claire) in the 23rd Senate District; and Rep. Jerry Petrowski (R-Marathon) defeated Rep. Donna Seidel (D-Wausau) for Pam Galloway’s seat in the 29th Senate District. Galoway opted to quit rather than face a recall election. As a result, the state Senate remains evenly split 16-16.
It will be interesting to see if such a resounding victory at every level carries over to the presidential election in November. Barack Obama won the state handily in 2008. As of now, Wisconsin can no longer be taken for granted by Democrats. Neither can the long-standing and insidious practice of union campaign contributions going to politicians who kowtow to union demands in return.
In other words, for those Americans interested in limited and fiscally responsible government that represents the peoples’ interests, Wisconsin is a harbinger of many things to come.
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