It can't be denied that Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's victory in his recall election was a sign of support for the incumbent governor's policies inside Wisconsin as well as outside it. Some voters expressed respect for Walker simply because, as they saw it, he met the state's fiscal problems head on instead of kicking the can down the road.
Some didn't see union bargaining rights as more important than the state's overall fiscal health. Though that may show a lack of insight about the relationship between unions, wages and tax revenue—to say nothing of worker welfare and the health of the middle class—nevertheless it's to be expected.
But the election can hardly be seen as a triumph for Walker. He defeated his opponent, Tom Barrett, 53.1 to 46.3, a margin of slightly less than 7 percent; that's a clear victory, but for conservatives to speak as though it were a landslide ("Wisconsin's Walker survives recall by wide margin," shouted Fox News on June 6) is wishful thinking.
And though the race was universally viewed as a referendum on Walker's fiscal policies, a gubernatorial election brings many interests into play. Unpublicized issues may have influenced the outcome; for example, Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, belongs to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, and that probably didn't do him any good with the National Rifle Association, which monitors all elections with its single-issue-focused eye.
The most striking thing about the numbers, however, is that Walker outspent Barrett by $30 million to $4 million. That means that Walker's campaign paid a lot more for the votes it got than Barrett's did. A 7 percent margin on an outlay of more than seven to one is no sweeping victory, to say the least. And two-thirds of Walker's donations came from out of state, mostly from billionaires whose political activism takes the form of channeling money to favored candidates.
Moreover, the League of Women Voters in Wisconsin reported receiving at least 1,700 calls from people who wanted to vote but experienced difficulty at the polls, especially students who had problems with recently tightened residency requirements. Jill Stein, now the official candidate for president on the Green Party ticket, was extremely critical of the process.
"Thousands of qualified voters were turned away from their polling places," said Stein. "Thousands more were told not to vote, or that election day was yet to come. The corporate media declared the election results while voters still stood in line to vote, and at a time when only the most conservative ward results were reported. ...And nearly all of the money spent in the election came from out-of-state big corporate interests. If an election like that is free and fair, then I have a nuke plant in Vermont to sell you."