The Biggest Lesson and Biggest Loser from the Recall

By Brett Healy
President, the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy

It is hard to believe that just one week ago today Governor Walker defeated Mayor Barrett in Wisconsin’s historic recall election, 53 to 46. We Wisconsinites have become so accustomed to the perpetual recall season, the constant buzzing of vuvuzelas and the nonstop campaign ads on TV that the relative silence we are experiencing now seems to be unusual, not the norm. Don’t worry, a few Leinie’s by the water and we will all be good.

While there are a whole host of takeaways that everyone involved in the recall will point to for their own parochial purposes, the most important lesson to come out of this ordeal is for Big Labor and Big Labor only. It is a lesson about the very future of the public employee labor movement and one that will have ramifications across the country whether you choose to recognize it or not.

You, Big Labor, attempted a bloodless coup against Governor Walker for having the audacity to ask government employees to pay something towards their own platinum health and retirement benefits. You orchestrated sixteen months of chaos because someone finally had the temerity to say no to you.

You didn’t care that this was an abuse of the recall process or that Governor Walker was just months into his first term. You couldn’t wait until the regularly scheduled election in 2014. You believed so strongly you were in the right that you forced a general election in June, essentially a $20 million do-over, on the good people of Wisconsin.

You attempted to intimidate Governor Walker and lawmakers into backing down. You yelled, you screamed, you shouted and you sang. You surrounded the Capitol with your semi trucks. You stalked our politicians outside of their homes and at the State Fair. You brought in professional protestors from around the country. You were obnoxious and profane. You whipped your supporters into such a frenzy that some wished harm and even death on the Governor and his family. You stormed the Capitol and refused to leave. You closed down our schools for days, bringing students to the Capitol as pawns in your special interest chess game.

Then you lied and sought out a fake doctor’s note so you could get paid to protest.

You attempted to sensationalize this debate. You took the rhetoric and hyperbole to levels we have never seen before here in Wisconsin. You compared Governor Walker to Hosni Mubarak and the struggle of the people of Egypt to be free with your own fight to keep a few more bucks in your pocket.

You said the sky would fall and schools all around our state would close. Some in your movement actually attempted to compare Wisconsin 2011 to Adolph Hitler and the rise of Nazism in Germany.

You turned this debate about the appropriate level of compensation and benefits for government workers into a crass and naked power grab.

But you failed.

The taxpayer prevailed. The lesson from Wisconsin 2011 is that taxpayers have had enough and will no longer be bullied into submissive silence by even the most powerful and deep-pocketed special interest groups.

And this must be the most frightening part of this lesson for you, Big Labor. If this can happen in Wisconsin, it can happen anywhere in this country.


There is finally hope for our country, awash in some $16 trillion dollars of debt and being driven to the brink of financial ruin by out of control government spending. Hope that taxpayers will unite and demand fiscal prudence to save the American way of life.

You had the nation’s attention focused solely on this one state. You were able to focus all your vast resources and deploy your army of campaign operatives on little-old Wisconsin for more than a year. You spent sixteen months and over $40 million dollars here.

And you failed.

If this can happen in Wisconsin – the state that gave birth to government unions and the modern-day AFSCME – it can happen anywhere.

And it will.

If common sense can prevail in Wisconsin – a state with a rich progressive history, the home of Fighting Bob LaFollette and the first personal income tax in the country – it can prevail anywhere.

If this can happen in Wisconsin – a purple state if there ever was one, a state with a history of divided government, a state that has voted for Russ Feingold, Tommy Thompson, President Obama, John Kerry, David Obey, Paul Ryan – this can happen anywhere.

If, after all of your efforts to mislead the public about the impact of Act 10, 75% of Wisconsinites still support Governor Walker’s fiscal reforms, this can happen anywhere.

And it will.

If a majority of voters in Wisconsin reject your fear mongering, the vandalism, the violence, the incessant public tantrums…it can happen anywhere.

Wisconsin taxpayers stood up to the bully. We’ve proven it can be done.

Now, the rest of the country can take from Wisconsin the strength and resolve needed to fix our problems. Our success can be replicated from coast to coast.

And it will.