The sooner the better for the Wisconsin recall elections.
The general election looks now to be held on June 5, with any primaries set for May 8. They can’t come soon enough for the citizens of the state, whose business is being held hostage to the recall-mania. The latest victim of the hyper-partisan impasse in the state is the mining bill that failed to gain a majority vote in the state senate.
The general election could be as early as May 8 if Democrats close ranks on a governor candidate and don’t need a primary. But a primary looks likely.
At this point, Kathleen Falk, former Dane County executive, and Kathleen Vinehout, a state senator from Alma, are in the race, so the primary is likely. In addition, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett could still announce, making it a three-way primary. If Barrett opts to stay as Milwaukee mayor, the Democrats and union leaders could lean on Vinehout to withdraw.
The timing of the recall elections cuts a lot of ways.
Most citizens would like to get the recall done with so the state can get back to some kind of normal governance. There is also the school of thought that the political uncertainty puts a damper on business expansion decisions and a corresponding down draft on job creation.
I don’t buy that argument, because business managers mainly make business decisions based on market factors. But the governmental confusion sure doesn’t help the business climate.
The four recalled Republican senators, Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch have agreed to the June 5 general election, so their political calculation must be that the short time line gives their opponents a short window to raise money and campaign.
Gov. Walker has been using his head start to raise a major war chest from inside and outside the state, but most of it has to be spent prior to the start of the formal campaign. His ads that are running now will have a bigger carry-over impact on a close-in election than one farther out.
On the other side the time equation is the effect of Act 10 on local government budgets. Each week brings more benefit reforms at the local level because of the absence of collective bargaining with public employee unions. The cumulative total of the resulting savings gets more impressive as the time line lengthens. The earlier the election, the lower that total; the higher the total, the more impressive the campaign defense of Act 10.
The opposition recall committees agreed to the May-June timetable, so they, too, must figure that a near-term vote plays well for them. They may worry that the local reforms will give increasing credibility over time to Act 10.
And the Democrats probably figure that they have a full head of steam and a ready organization of troops on the ground from the statewide signature gathering that produced the recall. Strike, they apparently believe, while the anti-Walker fervor is hot.
The disadvantage for the Democratic candidates is that they only have the rest of March, April and May to raise funds and campaign.
The issues, though, won’t be that complex on either side and won’t take that long to stake out. Walker will pound away that he and the Republican legislature improved the business climate in his first year in office, lowered the unemployment rate even if job growth is missing his targets and that he balanced the hemorrhaging budget he inherited from the Democrats. He earned his chops balancing the Milwaukee County budget.
The Democratic challengers will argue that the job growth under Walker has been anemic and that they are standing up to the governor’s assault on “the middle class.”
Embedded in that political position is their extrapolation that the 15% of the state’s workers who are employed by government are the heart of the middle class, even as workers in the private sector, who are largely non-union, remain divided about the merits of collective bargaining for public employees.
The Republicans will not talk much about their actions to neutralize public union power, though that is the hallmark of the last year under Republican power. And the Democrats will probably not push hard on the campaign trails for restoration of collective bargaining, union dues check-off and union friendly certification rules. They will talk instead about cuts to services like education and health care.
Wisconsin will be the epicenter of American politics over the next few months. Some state voters well go the polls five times this year, including three times by June 5, starting with the presidential primary and municipal elections April 3rd. Then they will twice more in the fall for national elections.
For political junkies, it’s better than March Madness for sports fans. For most citizens, it’s an embarrassing chapter in a state that has long prided itself on good governance. At least the short time line to the June 5 general election will let us quickly get the political chaos behind us.