World and Nation

Wisconsin Democrats see a gift in bitter battle over unions

MADISON, Wis. — After nearly a month of angry demonstrations and procedural maneuvering in the State Capitol here, Gov. Scott Walker won his battle Thursday to cut bargaining rights for most government workers in Wisconsin.

But his victory, after the state Assembly passed the bill, also carries risks for the state’s Republicans who swept into power in November.

Democratic-leaning voters appeared energized by the battle over collective bargaining on a national stage. The fight has already spurred a list of potential recall elections for state lawmakers this spring. Protesters are planning more large demonstrations this weekend.

“From a policy perspective, this is terrible,” said Mike Tate, the leader of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

“But from a political perspective, he could not have handed us a bigger gift,” Tate said of the governor.

In the past 24 hours, he added, the state party had received $360,000 in contributions and volunteers have streamed into offices where signatures were being collected for recall bids.

Political analysts said they would watch for the fallout of the Wisconsin vote, and whether it would affect similar battles now playing out over collective bargaining issues in statehouses elsewhere, including Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, and Indiana.

Republicans here contend that Wisconsin residents were seeking change in the election last fall and that this was just the sort of bold move they would ultimately embrace.

But Democrats say the collective bargaining fight may lead to a political shake-up in the Capitol, where more than a dozen senators (Republicans and Democrats) are now the subjects of heated recall efforts.

“The voters absolutely sent a message that they wanted fiscal conservatism,” said Michael B. Wittenwyler, a lawyer who once served as a campaign strategist for Democrats. “Now they learned what that really means and I think they’re saying, ‘Hmmm, maybe that’s not what we really want.’”

Others, though, wondered whether the protests might fade.

“If things go back to normal and Wisconsin continues to improve economically, balances its budgets, bring jobs, there probably won’t be a lot of pain for Republicans down the road,” said Bill McCoshen, who has been a campaign manager for Republicans. “I think things will get back to normal for the average Wisconsin citizen, but it’s going to take some time, though, before government employees get over this,” he added.

But Peggy Coyne, a middle school teacher, predicted more big crowds, more rallies, more protests. “We’ll keep our presence known here,” she said. “I think they felt there would be a little fuss and we’d go away. But this continues to get bigger and bigger.”