A local look at the Wisconsin recall elections

Editor’s note: We have invited Matt Korger to contribute this posting on the elections in his home state of Wisconsin. Matt is editor of the Badger Catholic blog.

Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane.

In February, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed a Budget Repair Bill which would rescue the state from a looming $3.6 billion ($3,600,000,000) state budget deficit.  Wisconsin was in much the same place as California found itself in a few years ago.  Either fix a broken system or the state goes broke and looks for someone else to foot their bills (how’s that budget ceiling workin’ for the Feds?).

Things had gotten so bad that in 2009 Minnesota cancelled its tax reciprocity relationship with Wisconsin, something Walker fixed in July.  Part of that budget bill called for a modernization of public sector union benefits.  In the Badger State any public employees in the state have health care coverage that covers 100% of basically anything, with the worker contributing $0; no premium.  This is a bit out of touch with reality.  My family premium per year is $2,600.  One might say that goes against the Church’s teaching on social justice.  Don’t try to tell these nuns though.

At any rate, the union leadership called out all the stops and poured money into the state of Wisconsin.  Folks like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Michael Moore were seen firing up the base for a colossal battle for the soul of the dairy state.  Six Republican state senators were pulled into recall elections for supporting the Walker measures along with three Democrat state senators for their antics in the Fleebagger incident.  One Democrat already survived a special election. That left a 19-14 advantage in the WI Senate to Republicans, so Democrats would need to win five of the eight elections to take control.

Here is a breakdown of last night’s results:

  • 55% – J. Shilling (Dem) 45% – D. Kapanke (i)(GOP)
  • 51% – J. King (Dem) 49% – R. Hopper (i)(GOP)
  • 48% – F. Clark (Dem) 52% – L. Olsen (i)(GOP)
  • 42% – S. Moore (Dem) 58% – S. Harsdorf (i)(GOP)
  • 46% – S. Pasch (Dem) 54% – A. Darling (i)(GOP)
  • 40% – N. Nusbaum (Dem) 60%- R. Cowles (i)(GOP)

Republicans held their majority by one seat.  Next Tuesday features the final two recall elections for Democrat-held seats so the WI GOP could pick up the two seats lost in last nights election.   But it is a definitive win for Walker and the state GOP and a decisive loss for public sector unions and those groups funding their efforts.  More on that later.

So what does this mean for Wisconsin?

The Good

Under previous governor Jim Doyle (a pro-abortion Catholic), the state’s budget was growing out of control.  This not only gave taxpayers a heavy burden to bear for years to come but it created an environment where legitimate aspirations of public education were becoming supplanted by the rising costs of benefits, particularly health care, and the public unions’ unwillingness to address the issue and make their workforce sustainable for the future.  The voters of Wisconsin have clearly made it known by yesterday’s results that they would prefer the new path of fiscal responsibility lead by Gov. Scott Walker to continue in Madison.  In addition, two strongly pro-life candidates are up next week and could replace two pro-abortion Democrats.

The Bad

The Republicans that won are not staunch social conservatives.   Harsdorf, Darling, Olsen and Cowles all voted in favor of the Emergency Contraception Mandate (which did pass and is now law), forcing Catholic hospitals to dispense emergency “contraception” (i.e. the morning after pill) regardless of religious or personal beliefs.  Sheila Harsdorf and Alberta Darling voted in favor of the Birth Control Protection Act (2007), which would have forced pharmacists to dispense birth control, regardless of religious/personal feelings on it. The legislation didn’t pass like it did in Illinois.

Recently there was an effort to completely defund Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin proposed by Gov. Walker.  A Republican effort ensued, lead by Darling, (a former director of PPWI) to maintain public funding for contraception but prohibit funding for abortion.  Darling stated: “I see this as a very positive effort to retain critical health care services for women.”  This effort passed and PPWI maintained some of it’s public funding.  All money is fungible; we are merely paying the salary of those who enable abortions (not to mention PPWI is not audited to see how the money is spent). So Darling is certainly not an ideal candidate by any stretch.

Pro-life Dan Kapanke (R) lost his seat in the Wisconsin State Senate in last night's recall election. He represented a heavily Democratic area around La Crosse, WI.

Dan Kapanke (R) who lost his recall bid last night was staunchly pro-life and socially conservative. The silver lining is that he could make a bid at the open U.S. Senate seat, held by retiring Herb Kohl in 2012.  Everything I’ve heard about Kapanke is that he’s one of the most genuine guys you’ll ever met in politics.  If there ever was a man you wanted in the US Senate it would be Kapanke.  It’s unclear whether he’s too socially conservative to be supported by the GOP establishment in Wisconsin (yes, like any other state Wisconsin has their conservatives and their country club Republicans).

The Ugly

The money that poured into Wisconsin was astonishing.  It seems that both sides of the aisle in the country felt Wisconsin was a tipping point for a return to fiscal responsibility (or maintaining the status quo).  The Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute has been featuring some out of state liberal groups activities in Wisconsin and also put together a Liberal Recall Money Matrix to see who was paying for what ($20 mil worth).  Back when Walker first introduced the Budget Repair Bill, the President of the United States publicly lambasted a state governor on state financial matters.  So much for a new tone.  The public protests were nasty and at one point union protesters even interrupted a Special Olympics ceremony.   I suppose the death threats to Republicans didn’t exactly make Sconnies look civilized.

The Beer

It is rumored that Wisconsin will have a Personhood Amendment proposed.  With the margin now so tight, it is likely that some Republicans will try to wiggle out of supporting the measure although it appears Gov. Walker would sign it once on his desk.  On the other hand, with everything else going on with the economy and the failure of the federal government to do just what Wisconsin has done, what has already been accomplished in Wisconsin remains a big victory.  Had someone asked me two years ago whether a state like Wisconsin with its excruciating liberal capital of Madison could pull off the victories of this year, I would have bet two PBRs that you were nuts.  Of course if I was told in that same time period the Green Bay Packers would win the Super Bowl, I would have saved the beer to spray in celebration of victory.

America, start saving some beer.  Your state too can enjoy the victory of fiscal responsibility!



  • Regina

    My husband is state worker and we too, pay a monthly premuim. Although our coverage may be better than the average he has also gave up $2000 – $3000/ year raise over the last 5 years and hasn’t seen a raise in that long to keep our coverage good. Although I support or pro-life politicians, I do feel that there were other ways to overcome our budget issues such as looking into the FREE healthcare our inmates are given and the FREE (or next to with the $1 – $3 co-pay) overuse/fraud that is occuring in our Welfare and Medicaid systems. However, I do agree that it is a very sad day that people would sacrafice a pro-life representative to make a few extra dollars.

  • BadgerCatholic

    Correction, not all members have unlimited health care benefits. Would love to crunch the numbers more with more time.

  • Cheryl

    I’m sorry, Mr. Korger, but your, “In the Badger State any public employees in the state have health care coverage that covers 100% of basically anything, with the worker contributing $0; no premium,” is wrong. My family is headed by a state employee and we indeed pay a premium…deducted out of every paycheck. Also, there were several years when ‘dental’ was not covered. Every state worker is not a “teacher.” Most non-teacher state employees have been seeing take home pay dropping for several years already. Time to quit painting pictures with such a wide brush.

  • Steve Charles

    You say Jim Doyle is a “Pro-Abortion Catholic”. That can’t be. You can be Catholic or pro-abortion. It’s impossible to be both.



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