JONATHAN CHAIT AUGUST 10, 2011
Simon van Zuylen-Wood, in a guest post below, persuasively complicates the liberal narrative about the Wisconsin recall elections by pointing out that the themes of the elections bore little resemblance to the Scott Walker agenda, which motivated the recall. But I think he takes a couple conclusions a bit too far.
First, he argues that the recall election "undermined democratic values." I don't really understand what definition of democratic values was undermined. My view is that the recall elections played the role here that proponents of the Senate filibuster once claimed on its behalf -- a rarely-used tool of strong minority dissent. The governor and his majority took office and quickly enacted legal changes they did not campaign on and which were designed in large measure to create a permanent partisan advantage. The Democrats responded by targeting Republican legislators who supported Walker.
Now, it's true that they could only target a handful of them this time around, and it's also true that the campaigns devoted much of their time to other issues. That does not change the fact that the Republican legislators know full well what prompted the recall campaigns. I think the successful recall elections of two state Senators does establish the deterrent power of a recall election. If one goal was to make Wisconsin GOP legislators think twice about supporting an unpopular, highly partisan measure, I think that goal was fulfilled.
Second, Simon concludes, "as Republicans will return to office with at least a 17-16 majority and full control of the general assembly, we’re right back where we started." I don't agree with that, either. Even triggering, let alone winning, a recall election is fairly rare. Winning two is highly unusual. And the Democrats will get another shot next year, when they'll be one seat away from taking over the state Senate rather than three seats away. That's not where we started. It's also a situation where, if Republican legislators are asked to support a relatively extreme and partisan change, they have good reason to seek out a compromise.