Voters went to the polls Tuesday to decide two Wisconsin state Senate races, the latest battle in the national fight over curbing the role of unions representing public employees.
The two special elections, seeking to recall two Democrats, are the final steps in the fierce fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit collective bargaining rights for many public employees. Sens. Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch, were among the Democrats who fled the state for weeks earlier this year in an unsuccessful effort to prevent the Legislature from passing Walker’s package of bills seen by their party as being anti-labor.
The races are the last of nine recall elections instigated by angry partisans. Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, the GOP will keep control of the Senate, which they already run with a 17-16 edge. In the first six recall elections, Democrats failed to win three of the six contested races needed to shift the balance of power.
Of the two races being decided Tuesday, local political observers said Holperin faced the toughest fight against Kim Simac, a founder of the Northwoods Patriots, a “tea party” group. The tea party movement held counter-demonstrations and opposed union efforts to block Walker’s package of bills.
As part of an economic retrenchment to close a $3.6-billion hole in the state budget, Walker proposed having most public employees pay a larger share for their healthcare and pension benefits. He also argued that collective bargaining rights should be limited because they created political problems for many levels of government forced to bargain with unions.
The issue quickly spread to other Midwestern states led by new Republican majorities and governors seeking to bridge budget gaps without raising taxes in tough economic times.
The themes have also become touchstones in the 2012 national elections expected to be fought over economic issues, including spending cuts and GOP opposition to tax hikes.
Local and national labor groups swarmed to the Wisconsin capital, Madison, during the showdown in June, shutting the major buildings as top Democrats fled to other states, blocking action in the Legislature because of the lack of a quorum. Steady streams of photographs and television images helped turn Walker into a national figure.
While the Tuesday elections end the legislative recall efforts, state Democratic leaders have said they will continue to seek a recall of Walker.
© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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