Reformers win: Public unions humiliated
Public employee unions put everything they had in trying to defeat Wisconsin governor Scott Walker. The incumbent cruised to victory.
National unions spent tens of millions of dollars to defeat reform governors Walker, Kasich in Ohio, and Scott in Florida, and to re-elect Quinn in Illinois.
All for naught.
President Obama spent Election Day making calls for Democrats, including one to a radio host in which he blamed his party’s looming defeats on “probably the worst possible group of states for Democrats since Eisenhower.” He was referring to Senate races in states won by Mitt Romney. We’re not sure how he squares that with GOP Senate victories in Iowa and Colorado, both of which he carried twice.
But the bad-map theory certainly doesn’t explain the Republican sweep of governorships in Florida and the Midwest states that he carried twice. The victories by Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Snyder in Michigan and Rick Scott in Florida are all the more impressive because they had dared to challenge the sanctum sanctorum of Democrat politics—public union power.
Mr. Walker famously reformed collective bargaining, and the AFL-CIO went all in against him first in a recall and is now a double loser. Mr. Snyder signed a right-to-work law in the home of the United Auto Workers and survived. Mr. Scott signed tenure reform and pay evaluation for teachers, while Democrat Charlie Crist played up to the unions.
The grand slam was completed by Republican Bruce Rauner, the private-equity manager who defeated incumbent Pat Quinn and the Democrat-public union alliance in Illinois, of all places. Mr. Rauner campaigned on pension reform and repealing Mr. Quinn’s tax increases.
It seems pretty clear that the voters rewarded those politicians who worked to break the monopoly of power held by public-sector unions by sending them back to the statehouse. Even more importantly in some ways, the myth of organized labor's power has been shattered, at least for the time being. That myth held back some governors from making necessary changes in pension benefit packages to avoid disaster.
Governor-Elect Rauner in Illinois will likely be the next leader to test public unions. Chicago public unions enjoy some of the best pensions in the country. Not surprisingly, there is a massive shortfall in contributions that threatens the pension system with collapse. The state's employee pensions are in a little better shape, but the health care system for retirees is draining state funds . Rauner will have to convince some Democrats to support reform – an interesting challenge in a state so heavily dominated by public unions, who support Democratic politicians almost exclusively.
Governor Walker has now won 3 races in 4 years – two of those races featured public unions that were energized and extraordinarily well-funded. Republican governors should note Walker's success and try to duplicate his efforts.