What Do the Wisconsin Governor Recall Results Mean for Ohio?

By Kevin Holtsberry

This is a question a lot of people are asking themselves in light of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s strong victory in the recall election Tuesday night. I offered some thoughts and reactions for ABC 6/Fox 28 here in Columbus yesterday (you can watch the video here).

I think one easy takeaway is that the basics still matter. Fundraising, voter turnout systems, a highly motivated base and a favorable calendar all still matter. Governor Walker raised a lot of money, motivated his supporters and ran a disciplined and effective campaign that won the turnout battle. He also had the added benefit of running on his record a year after the legislation passed and against a specific opponent.

But I also think the recall sends the message that public sector unions are not invincible. No matter how you slice it a loss, is a loss, is a loss. When Governor Walker embarked on the fundamental reforms needed to get control of Wisconsin’s budget and plan for a sustainable future he ran smack into the implacable opposition of public sector unions and their allies. They immediately set about to overturn this necessary reform by removing Walker from office. Many assumed they would be successful.

But what Tuesday’s results showed is that this opposition can be weathered and ultimately defeated. Walker stood his ground, built a large coalition and network of support, and used that foundation to run a focused and strategic campaign that communicated what was at stake to persuadable citizens.

This is a lesson worth remembering. Nothing is inevitable.

Which is good news because, despite the lingering effects of Issue 2, Ohio’s structural problems are not going to go away. An outdated, industrial, big government economic model has led to stagnation and growth deficits.

  • A lack of worker freedom is still a drag on Ohio’s economy and has been sending jobs and citizens to the South and West for decades, in fact we lost 614,000 private sector jobs from 2000-2010, more than any other state in the country except Michigan;
  • A public sector compensation system based on tenure and political power rather than talent and success still drives an unsustainable budget process, and poor service delivery, from the local level up to the Statehouse;
  • Gold plated pension benefits, and a system where all the risk is on the taxpayer, have created $70 billion and counting in unfunded liabilities.
  • Ohio must begin to address these issues if it is to be competitive and avoid the crippling crisis griping governments from Illinois to California to Greece and Spain.

    The answer lies in a sustained education, communication and engagement process that helps Ohioans understand why reform is in their best interest and will lead to better lives for their families and businesses; it will mean more jobs, better services and stronger communities. And this effort will require building a broad based coalition from across the state to counter the still-powerful groups that insist on the status quo.

    We at the Buckeye Institute are committed to researching and communicating solutions to these fundamental problems. We are committed to working as part of a larger coalition to build support for reform and to counter the misrepresentation and fear mongering that so often is involved in these types of debates.

    We come to work everyday seeking ways to engage Ohio citizens and policy makers and to communicate the urgent need for reform. The events in Wisconsin prove that success is possible, that bold reform can succeed.

    Nothing is inevitable. We can win. We can increase freedom and opportunity in Ohio.

    It won’t be easy, change never is, but it is what we must do to put Ohio back on the path to growth and prosperity – to build a future for our children and grandchildren.


    Kevin Holtsberry is President of the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions

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