by Matthew Knee

Last night, the movement to save America and the states from corruption and insolvency may have suffered a setback in Wisconsin. Prosser has a razor-thin lead, but almost all the outstanding votes are in Kloppenburg counties, and for whatever reason, Democrats seem to usually benefit from recounts. However, regardless of the final outcome, last night’s election holds important lessons for the future, namely that big labor’s organizational and motivational advantages may count for less than many fear.

In the television air war, reformers prevailed. Free market organizations managed to outspend big labor, and our money was free-range cash, donated willingly, as opposed to monies coerced by law from taxpayers and workers.

On paper, the reformers were severely disadvantaged. Both candidates agreed to run on only $300,000 in public financing, meaning they could not directly operate on the scale this election required. The unions’ well-established political organizations, compounded by likely-stronger recall petition teams that they were able to re-purpose, looked to be an enormous advantage. The Prosser campaign’s lack of infrastructure was so severe that Prosser suggested on The Mark Levin Show that people “simply…talk to their friends” because “there isn’t really an adequate office, isn’t adequate staff, to handle all the volunteers It will be interesting in the coming days to hear if and how the Tea Party movement managed to organize for this election so quickly.

Big labor should have been far more excited and mobilized than the reformers. Non-public-safety public employee unions’ ability to function in Wisconsin is at stake if the Budget Repair Bill sticks. Special interests with tangible benefits at stake are generally far more motivated to act than taxpayers as a whole, whose losses are less direct and less apparent. In national elections, when every political machine is firing on all cylinders, there are many competing sources of excitement, but in off-season elections, concentrated interests usually have an advantage. In retrospect, Wisconsin, with its recall provisions and upcoming key judicial election, was an especially tough venue for a battle between the interests of the many and the interests of the few.

Despite all these disadvantages, and regardless of who ultimately prevails in this election, the reformers fought big labor to a virtual draw. Perhaps the most powerful collection of special interests in the country gave their best, and all they managed to do was (maybe) eke out a photo finish win in a purple state with disproportionate union membership and under mostly favorable circumstances.

The money to ensure future solvency and prosperity must come from somewhere. Any solution will anger whichever constituencies lose out, and there will be many. The pain and sacrifices will be shared. Unlike many other special interest groups, however, success against public employees unions will severely limit their ability to do further damage, rather than merely angering them. Clearing a hornet’s nest can be challenging, but it is better in the long run than constantly dealing with hornets…and last night showed that big labor’s sting is less painful than many feared.

[Correction: I referred to the judicial election as a special election, which it technically was not. It was a regularly-scheduled off-season election, but the exact same principles apply.]

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