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June 06. 2012 9:31PM

Wisconsin results could inspire more attacks on unions


Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addresses a victory rally at the Waukesha Expo Center in Waukesha, Wisc., Tuesday night. Walker, a Republican, survived a recall challenge against Democrat Tom Barrett. (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election victory and the vote of two California cities to curb the pensions of city workers may embolden political leaders across the country to take on labor unions, experts said Wednesday.

Walker survived a recall election Tuesday forced by liberal critics opposed to his bold moves to limit the powers of public sector unions in a state that could be a battleground in the presidential election.

Voters in two of California’s biggest cities, San Diego and San Jose, on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported cutting pensions of city government workers to save money.

“This is a watershed moment, a historic moment,” said Gary Chaison, professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

“They (unions) gambled heavily and they lost heavily. It’s a real problem for them,” Chaison added.

Tuesday’s results also could spell trouble for President Barack Obama’s Democratic party, which is dependent on labor unions for votes, financial support and on-the-ground organization.

The White House downplayed the notion that the Wisconsin outcome could foreshadow problems for Obama in the November election against Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

“I certainly wouldn’t read much into yesterday’s result beyond its effect on who’s occupying the governor’s seat today in Wisconsin,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed for San Francisco.

Walker, who has emerged as a hero to American conservatives for taking on the unions and then surviving their recall efforts, said Romney will remain an underdog, particularly in Wisconsin, where Obama won by 14 percentage points in 2008.

“But I think anyone looking at the results last night would also acknowledge that it’s now competitive in Wisconsin,” Walker said in an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday.

Unions and liberal activists forced the Wisconsin recall election over a law championed by Walker curbing collective bargaining powers for public sector workers.

The state’s Republican-controlled legislature passed it last year soon after Walker took office.

Walker made no apologies for going after union collective bargaining rights, but said he should have spent more time talking about it before he acted. “I was so eager to fix it, I didn’t talk about it,” Walker said. “Most politicians talk about it, they just never fix it.”

Walker won by a larger margin than he had over the same Democratic challenger he beat two years ago, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement that while the Walker recall effort fell short, the state’s Senate has flipped back to the Democrats, which could put a break on Walker’s agenda.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Republicans will try to replicate their victory in Wisconsin in the November election. No Republican presidential candidate has won Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

“Wisconsin Democrats now head into November dispirited and in disarray, while Republicans remain strong and organized, with momentum on our side,” Priebus said.

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