The Democrats targeted in Tuesday’s election were among the 14 senators who fled the state in February in opposition to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal curbing public employee collective bargaining rights.
Both Democrats and Republicans were claiming victory on Tuesday in a series of nine summer recall votes in which Democrats unseated two incumbent Republicans but fell short of winning control of the state legislature.
Both Democratic incumbents, Sen. Jim Holperin and Sen. Bob Wirch, survived. Democrats picked up two seats through the nine recalls but were unable to wrest majority Senate control away from the GOP, which now holds a narrow 17-16 majority. Before the recalls, Republicans had a 19-14 edge in the chamber.
Democrats had hoped to win a majority in the state senate following a fierce battle with Governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies earlier this year over public workers’ union powers that involved mass protests, legislative maneuvering and court challenges.
Even though they remain in the minority, Democrats were savoring Tuesday’s victories. “This was a political Rorschach test in that anyone can read anything into the result,” said Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee governmental affairs professor and former Democratic lawmaker. “Politically, it was a draw.”
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said Democrats have “fundamentally changed the face of power in the Wisconsin Legislature” through the recalls. Even though Republicans remain in the majority, Tate said Democrats’ picking up two seats and making gains in Republican districts sets the table for big wins next year.
“It’s really hard to go five for nine and not be pleased of the progress that we made,” he said.
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which certifies election results, said official results will not be released until next week. The unofficial results released Tuesday were collected by The Associated Press and distributed to newspapers, television and radio stations.
Last week, six Republicans were the subject of a recall. Four of the six won. Last month, a Democratic senator also won a recall election.
Republicans managed to keep control of the state senate — 17 to 16. But state Democrats point out that one Republican state senator, Dale Schultz, voted against Walker’s curbs on public sector unions. They argue that the balance of power actually shifted away from the conservatives.
“The state Senate as now constituted would NOT have approved Walker’s extreme, divisive assault on the middle class and working people,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said in a statement.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement that he was proud the GOP maintained its majority through the recalls. He said Tuesday’s results were a rejection of the recall process.
“The problems facing our state are too serious for these political games, and the Democrats’ permanent campaign cycle,” Fitzgerald said in the statement. “The Democrats need to start working with the other side of the aisle, not just moving on to their next recall target.”
Brad Courtney, chair of the state’s Republican Party, congratulated Simac and Steitz for mounting what he described as well-fought challenges.
“Wisconsin now emerges from this recall election season with a united Republican majority who has beaten off an attack from national unions and special interests and emerged steadfastly committed to carrying forward a bold job creation agenda,” Courtney said in a statement.
The recall elections stem from the bitter battle last winter that saw pro-union protesters camping out in the state Capitol and Democratic senators fleeing the state in an unsuccessful attempt to halt legislation by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that some felt was anti-union. [via CNN, Reuters and Huffpost]