David Freddoso of the Washington Examiner is painting the result of the recall elections in Wisconsin as a major loss for public sector unions:
An energized Democratic base was supposed to turn out yesterday. It was supposed to pry away from Republicans their total control of Wisconsin's state legislature. Republicans had gone after the state's public employee unions, and this was supposed to be an overreach that would cost them dearly in yesterday's recall elections. If Democrats could pick up three of the six seats under recall, they could win back the state Senate and block Gov. Scott Walker's agenda.
Every Republican I spoke to before the election expressed pessimism. The expectations were clearly in favor of a Democratic takeover -- so much so that Republicans in Wisconsin's legislature took the extraordinary step of passing an early redistricting bill.
And then...it just didn't work out the way the unions had hoped.
In the end, the union-backed Democrats picked up only two state Senate seats in Wisconsin last night, at a staggering cost in time, effort, and of course money. One of the seats was solidly Democratic, held by a Republican due to an apparent fluke of nature. The other was held by an alleged adulterer who had moved outside his district to live with his young mistress, and whose wife was supporting his recall.
As for the other four Republican incumbents the unions tried to recall, they didn't end up coming very close. And remember -- these weren't just any Republican incumbents. These were the ones that the unions judged most vulnerable, which is why they collected petition signatures against them.he Wisconsin recall battle was triggered by the Republican effort to limit the power of public sector unions.
The Wisconsin recall elections, which were triggered by public sector unions seeking to retaliate against Governor Scott Walker and the GOP-dominated legislature for having passed legislation trimming the power of those unions, thus stand as an example of both (1) why public sector unionism is a bad idea and (2) the possibility that taxpayers are finally figuring that out.
As I remarked in these pages when the Wisconsin fight first began, the trouble with public sector unions is that:
A core problem with public sector unionism is that it creates a uniquely powerful interest group. In theory, bureaucrats are supposed to work for and be accountable to the elected representatives of the people. But suppose those bureaucrats organize into large, well-funded, powerful unions that can tip election results. With very few and very unique exceptions, no workplace in which the employees elect the supervisors functions well for long. Yet, research by Terry Moe (22 J.L. Econ. & Org. 1) into the electoral power of teachers' unions finds just such an outcome:
The first study ... provides evidence that teachers, acting through their unions, are quite successful at getting their favored candidates elected to local school boards. When a candidate is supported by the unions, her probability of winning increases dramatically, so much so that the impact of union support appears to be roughly the same as the impact of incumbency. In terms of total impact, union influence may be even greater than this suggests, because union victories literally produce incumbents—and the power of incumbency then works for union candidates to boost their probability of victory still further in future elections.
The second study ... shows that public bureaucrats' turnout advantage over other citizens is much greater than the existing literature would lead us to expect. It also offers persuasive new grounds for believing that their high turnout is indeed motivated by occupational self-interest—and more generally, that they are actively and purposely engaged in an electoral effort to control their own superiors.
The prevailing theories treat bureaucrats as mere subordinates, controlled from above by political authorities. But the control relationship can run both ways, and not just because bureaucrats have expertise and other sources of private information. In a democratic system the authorities are elected, and this gives bureaucrats an opportunity to exercise electoral power in determining who will occupy positions of authority and what choices they will make in office. It would be odd indeed if public bureaucrats and their unions did not invest in this kind of reverse control—and there is ample evidence that they do.
In effect, public sector unionism thus means that representatives of the union will often be on both sides of the collective bargaining table. On the one side, the de jure union leaders. On the other side, the bought and paid for politicians. No wonder public sector union wages and benefits are breaking the back of state budgets. They are bargaining with themselves rather than with an arms'-length opponent.
The recall battle in Wisconsin was pure and simple an effort by public sector unions to perpetuate their ability to extract rents from the public by "an electoral effort to control their own superiors."
The fact that that effort nearly succeeded stands as evidence of the problem. Public sector unions wield disproportionate political power and all too often are able to deploy it in ways that protect their narrow self-interest at the expense of public welfare. As even such a prominent democratic icon as FDR observed:
Meticulous attention," the president insisted in 1937, "should be paid to the special relations and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government....The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service." The reason? F.D.R. believed that "[a] strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to obstruct the operations of government until their demands are satisfied. Such action looking toward the paralysis of government by those who have sworn to support it is unthinkable and intolerable."
The failure of that effort thus may ultimately prove a harbinger of major reform. It proves that you can take on the powerful public sector unions and survive politically. As such, it should give courage and comfort to legislators in other states where the battle will be fought next.
In the end, there is now hope that Wisconsin will prove to be a turning point in the effort to eliminate the political power of public sector unions.