Though exit polls indicated a dead heat, the networks picked Governor Scott Walker to win by 10 pm eastern time. The result is a body blow to government unions at a time when they have arguably become much more consequential than the remnants of the once massive private sector union bloc. While the election represents a major setback for public unions (whose perks and benefits represent low hanging fruit in a time of budget crises), it demonstrates a healthy civic impulse and clear-sightedness on the part of voters.
The decision to retain Governor Walker exhibits an ability on the part of voters to discern the difference between private unions (which can be a perfectly legitimate part of a free market negotiating process) and public unions (which are a different sort of creature). Public unions create a class of voters (government union members) who are able to promise money and support to the people making decisions about their pay packages and work conditions. It is anything but an arm’s length transaction made in the interest of all citizens. The process highlights the way narrow interests can exploit apathy on the part of the public to gain concentrated benefits. The situation is made worse by the fact that many of the benefits (such as pension promises) don’t come due until well in the future when feckless decision makers have long since left office and need not face the music. The public union is a Tocquevillian nightmare.
There is little incentive (other than fiscal responsibility, an exceedingly rare virtue) for executives like Scott Walker to rein them in. But he did it anyway. Walker bet his term on drawing attention to the way public unions act against the public interest. He paid a price in having to fight a determined recall. But tonight, he has been vindicated. The people of Wisconsin have decided to reject the kind of government that rewards organized public employees with perks and promises well beyond those available to the vast majority of Americans working in the private sector. In so doing, they have taken an important step in equalizing the playing field between those holding government jobs and those working in the private economy that supports the government jobs.