Assessing Wisconsin's Recall Vote

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker survived a bruising recall election, leaving many to wonder whether there is a better way to resolve public issue disputes.Assessing the impact of Wisconsin's foiled recall effort this week of GOP Governor Scott Walker can be tricky for a state such as Oregon. First off, we haven't had a Republican governor here since Vic Atiyeh a quarter century ago. But we have had, at both the state and local level, encouraging examples of collaboration between political parties and between political leaders and organized labor.

After reaching a 30-30 tie in the 2010 election, Republicans and Democrats in the Oregon House agreed to share power. Co-Speakers Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, avoided most partisan flare-ups during the 2011 and 2012 sessions and instead made a round of statewide joint appearances to discuss key policy decisions. (Two former House speakers from different parties in Pennsylvania are serving time in the same state prison and may become bunkmates.)

Multnomah County Chair Jeff Cogen found a way to work with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which agreed for the second time in three years to forego cost-of-living increases in return for leaving employee health benefits unchanged

Governor Kitzhaber counseled Oregon labor leaders to put aside potentially divisive ballot measures dealing with corporate taxation and higher taxes on the wealthy and focus instead on a measure to direct corporate kicker refunds to education. Kitzhaber said he would pursue another attempt to revamp Oregon's tax system, which is heavily reliant on personal income tax revenues, including capital gains.

These are stark contrasts to the bitterness that has gripped Wisconsin since Walker's election and his survival of a politically motivated recall drive.

Many pundits have drawn their own conclusions from the Wisconsin election. Republicans say it is a harbinger of GOP success in the November general election. Unions and Democrats blame their loss on being hugely outspent. Exit polls showed as many as 60 percent of voters in what was a relatively small turnout said they disagreed with using the power of recall for political reasons.

Walker and his Democratic opponent Tom Barrett seemed to underline the lesson of more listening before acting. Walker said he would work to reduce divisiveness, starting with an invitation to Republican and Democratic lawmakers for a summer barbecue of brats and beer, made in Wisconsin, of course.

Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, cautioned against making too much of the Wisconsin vote, especially from the political right. Huffman says governing needs to occur from the center and when either side — right or left — strays too far from the middle, their time in power is short. More important, he says extremism leaves major state problems unsolved. "I hope," Huffman said, "that Republicans in Oregon continue to work toward the center."

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne made a similar observation. "The left will make a big mistake if it ignores the lessons of the failed recall of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. The right will make an even bigger error if it allows the Wisconsin results to feed its inclination toward winner-take-all politics."

The pressures to divide will continue. Fiscal tensions in California are growing, leading voters in San Diego and San Jose to approve ballot measures cutting pension benefits for city workers. In turn, that could spark calls for the California assembly to deal with public employee pensions, replaying many of the issues that ignited a 16-month political war in Wisconsin.

Tough times call for tough decisions. Oregon has shown — at least so far — that bipartisanship and collaboration produce better results than recalls and ballot measures stripping people of benefits they earned.