The Free Press, Mankato, MN


August 11, 2011

Our View: Wisconsin recall no mirror of nation

— The Wisconsin recall election is over, and depending on which side of the aisle you stand, it was either a victory for Democrats, who gained two seats, or a victory for Republicans, who held onto the majority. Contrary to what some national media are painting, what it is not is a signal of a nationwide trend.

It is clear that after tens of millions of dollars poured in by outside interest groups, an ugly advertising campaign and a huge turnout of voters, the Democrats fell short of their goal to take control of the state Senate with the GOP holding a narrow 17-16 majority.

This recall election was seen by many as a test of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who gained the national spotlight since unveiling his conservative agenda, including ending collective bargaining for public workers. The legislators targeted for recall were those who sided with Walker. One of the losses was predictable – Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, was defeated by state Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse – because Kapanke previously won the seat by only 2 percent.

And the area has been trending “blue” for some time, said University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political scientist Joe Heim. “The district has been trending Democratic. He may be a victim of that trend.”

However, the national focus has given undue weight to the outcome. On election night, national news organizations were discussing the ramifications on the upcoming 2012 national election. But we must remember the Republican senators were targeted for recall because they backed the end of collective bargaining. Eventually the focus shifted toward the issues of taxes and funding for schools with the hope of expanding the voter base. It wasn’t enough to give the power back to the Democrats.

To further suggest the outcome of Wisconsin is somehow a harbinger of things to come discounts election history. Wisconsin has hardly been a bellwether of national mood. In the last 10 presidential elections, it voted for Democratic candidates all but three times – 1972 for Nixon and twice for Reagan. It has been a Democratic state since the Great Depression.

This was a local issue following a very volatile legislative session where Democrats fled the state rather than be forced to vote on a Republican agenda. It was about what is perceived to be an assault on union rights. To extrapolate the outcome – no matter which way it turned out – to the national mood is not helpful in understanding the real national mood.

That mood is anger and disappointment about a federal government that is dysfunctional, a lack of leadership or long-term strategy to put the country back on track and an economy that continues to be, at best, anemic. The national mood is more worried about jobs and what the future holds — not politics.

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