Educator’s Victory in Wisconsin Gives Democrats Majority in State Senate
By Tim Walker
John Lehman, a former high school history and economics teacher and a retired National Education Association and Wisconsin Education Association Council member, was elected last night to the Wisconsin State Senate. Lehman’s ouster of Senator Van Wanggaard, one of Gov. Scott Walker’s key allies, will help restore the balance of power in Madison. Democrats now have a one-seat majority in the Senate, placing a much-needed check on Walker’s attacks on middle class families and help turn the page on one of the most divisive periods in Wisconsin political history.
Speaking to supporters on Tuesday, Lehman pledged to work to heal the political wounds of their state and bring workers, families and communities back together again for the good of the state.
“This victory is solely dedicated to all the hardworking volunteers who have put us over the top tonight,” Lehman said. “Tonight, the citizens of Racine County voted for checks and balances in our state legislature. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the state senate.”
In 2011, activists across Wisconsin forced recall elections for six Republican senators who were critical allies of Mr. Walker in his relentless attack on workers’ rights. Those contests resulted in the defeat of two Republic incumbents but that still left the GOP with a one-seat edge in the state Senate. Lehman’s triumph on Tuesday night flips the chamber. With Walker winning his recall election, the importance of this shift in power to the Democrats in the Senate cannot be overstated.
The biggest winner, however, might have been the vast amounts of corporate cash that helped Walker build a formidable war chest against challenger Mayor Tom Barrett, said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. Walker had a massive head start, raising unlimited funds well before Democrats picked a nominee. He and his outside allies spent more than $31 million compared to the $4 million spent to support Mayor Barrett.
“These millionaire donors, empowered by the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, have made a mockery of democracy and nearly drowned out the voices of working families in Wisconsin.” Van Roekel said. “The good news is that the barrage of out-of-state corporate money did not keep voters from restoring the balance of power in the state Senate.”
Despite the loss in the governor’s race, the power of Wisconsin’s progressive, grassroots tradition was clearly on display, highlighting the power of everyone who talked to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about the stakes in this election. Educators played a key role in this tremendous effort, coming together with citizens and organizations from across the state to form We are Wisconsin, a citizen-driven, community-based grassroots effort aimed at retaking their state and recalling Scott Walker. On election eve, We Are Wisconsin knocked on 1.4 million doors and made 1.5 million phone calls. The group consisted of 50,000 volunteers. Many of the volunteers of We are Wisconsin are members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), NEA’s state affiliate.
With the recall now behind them, this cutting-edge, grassroots field operation will shift gears and focus on the 2012 presidential election.
“Tonight’s outcome takes nothing away from the unprecedented and Herculean effort sparked by tens of thousands of teachers, bus drivers, firefighters, snow plow drivers and other Badger State working families,” Van Roekel added. “They stood up for kids, for workers and for justice and no matter the outcome, showed that NEA members will never stop advocating for our students and our communities. And for that we are grateful.”