Tuesday’s vote to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walkeris getting attention for its impact — some say it’s the second-biggest election of the year, and could even be a deciding factor in Mitt Romney’s running mate. In an op-ed, Marc Thiessen suggests that a Walker win could make him the “instant front-runner” to share the GOP ticket, helping to siphon off voters from President Obama in a critical state to his reelection campaign.
In the meantime, however, should Walker win — and he is expected to do so — he will still need to govern a state that has become sharply divided over his leadership. Walker’s pushing through of collective-bargaining reform has made him a hero among far-right conservatives and a target of unions nationwide. If he is successful in keeping his seat (and is not tapped for higher office should Romney win the presidency), he will be in charge of running a bitterly divided state for the next two years.
That will lead to some interesting leadership challenges. For one, of course, the public employee unions whose collective bargaining rights have been altered — the teachers, police officers and city workers whose service and on-the-job performance is important to the success of his state — aren’t likely to feel too much love for their governor. Even if some reforms were needed to address fiscal concerns in the state, the way in which these changes were made has likely hurt morale among the very people who work for him. Who knows whether this will have an immediate impact on the running of the state, but over time it could prompt less interest in these jobs and more turnover among the ranks.
In addition, Tuesday’s recall vote could produce two election quirks that could make Walker’s job harder. The most likely one is that Democrats gain control over the state senate, even if Walker wins. Two Republicans were unseated in a recall campaign last summer, narrowing the GOP majority in the state senate, and four more Republican state senate seats are up for grabs in the recall vote Tuesday. A win of just one of them by Democrats would give them a state senate majority. In other words, Walker’s controversial policies may succeed in standing, but could also make his party less powerful going forward, depending on what happens in the regular elections in November.
A far less likely scenario is that Walker’s lieutenant governor, who is also up for recall, loses the race to a Democrat: the head of the firefighters’ union, Mahlon Mitchell. Because recall votes are every man for himself, a split ticket is possible, if highly unlikely (everyone from Mitchell himself to former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold to Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, have dismissed the possibility). Still, it is possible. And if it did happen, it could lead to power struggles in such a polarized state.
Walker may have a 93-percent chance of winning, according to InTrade, and be ahead in the polls. And he may not only win the race, but catapult himself — or at least his state — into the center of the presidential election. But once the recall is over, the challenges won’t be. Walker is sure to face many in the months ahead.
More from On Leadership:
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: