Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Walker's win bolsters tea party, weakens Democrats

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
June 6, 2012 -- Updated 1407 GMT (2207 HKT)
The state Capitol in Madison became a scene of fierce protests in 2011 after Gov. Scott Walker's moves on public sector unions.
The state Capitol in Madison became a scene of fierce protests in 2011 after Gov. Scott Walker's moves on public sector unions.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: Recall vote a huge victory for conservatives, tea party
  • He says Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faced multibillion-dollar budget deficit
  • Bennett says cutting worker benefits erased deficit, lowered taxes, helped state economy
  • He says Obama didn't fulfill vow to stand with workers who lost collective bargaining on benefits

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- With Tuesday's recall vote, taxpayers in Wisconsin affirmed Gov. Scott Walker's reforms and put an end to the state's unholy alliance between big government and big labor. The reign of entrenched public sector unions may be over and a new era of self-governing fiscal responsibility beginning.

The importance of Walker's victory cannot be understated. This is, after all, Wisconsin -- the birthplace of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the first state to permit collective bargaining. Not since Ronald Reagan in 1984 has Wisconsin voted Republican, and in 2008, Obama took the state by a whopping 14 points.

Analysis: Wisconsin now tougher for Obama, but still uphill climb for Romney

And yet Walker won by seven points Tuesday, becoming the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch also beat the recall. The Wisconsin saga ends close to where it began: a sobering defeat for organized labor and a stunning victory for fiscal conservatives.

William J. Bennett
William J. Bennett

Walker took office in 2011 facing a $3.6 billion budget hole. He had few options at his disposal to balance the budget: raise taxes, make draconian cuts or go after the sweetheart public employee pension and health care plans. He bravely chose the latter, requiring public employees to pay 5% of their salaries toward their pensions (they paid virtually nothing before) and 12.6% of their health care premiums (less than what private and federal employees pay). Furthermore, he ended collective bargaining except for wages and made automatic union dues optional.

Walker's Wisconsin win big blow to unions, smaller one to Obama

Before Walker's reforms, Wisconsin state employees enjoyed salary and benefits that were about 28% higher than comparable private sector workers, according to a new study from the American Enterprise Institute. Even after his much decried reforms, Wisconsin public employees' total compensation is still about 22% greater -- $81,637 versus $67,068 -- than similar private sector workers.

Walker: 'Time to move Wisconsin forward'
Politician slapped in the face
Milwaukee mayor loses recall vote

Yet how were Walker's proposals received? Democratic state senators fled to Illinois to avoid votes; up to 100,000 protesters stormed the state Capitol in Madison, climbing through windows and trashing the building; teachers handed out fake doctors' notes to skip school and protest, some even bringing their students with them; signs and fliers compared Scott Walker to Adolf Hitler; a Democratic state senator cursed out a Republican lawmaker; and lastly, Democrats initiated recall elections on state senators, the lieutenant governor and Walker.

In the end, Democrats have little, if anything, to show for it. That's because Walker's reforms have done everything he promised. He recouped the state's budget shortfall without raising taxes. School districts that enacted his reforms were able to meet budgets without firing teachers, enlarging class sizes or cutting programs. In fact, some even reported budget surpluses. Property taxes fell for the first time in 13 years, and Walker cited figures that showed Wisconsin has added 35,000 jobs since he took office.

The public sector union machine, once a colossus of Democratic power, looks weak in the wake of Walker's triumph. With mandatory union dues now extinct, union membership has withered in Wisconsin. AFSCME's Local 24 in Madison has seen its ranks drop from 22,300 to 7,100, while AFSCME's statewide membership has been cut in half. In short, Walker has broken the long running cycle of handoffs and paybacks between union leadership and state politicians.

Where is the Democrat outrage? In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama promised, "(I)f American workers are being denied their right to organize when I'm in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States." In February 2011, President Obama called Walker's proposals an "assault" on unions.

But less than two years later, Obama wouldn't set foot in Wisconsin before the recall. His endorsement of Tom Barrett came via Twitter, hardly instilling confidence in the Democratic cause. Public sector unions were left out in the Wisconsin cold.

On the other hand, the untold story of the Wisconsin saga may be the resurgence of the tea party. Local tea party groups, like the Racine tea party, and national groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, have hosted dozens of rallies for Walker, recruiting volunteers from around the country and pouring in campaign donations in unparalleled numbers. Any rumors of a tea party demise have been short-lived.

Come November, Wisconsin will be the conservative rallying cry. Fittingly, the Badger fight song may very well be the anthem:

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!

Plunge right through that line!

Run the ball clear down the field,

A touchdown sure this time ...

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/Opinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT