If you're a Democrat, you're probably looking over last night's election results with an optimistic eye. When the polls had closed, there were a handful of achievements to celebrate -- Russell Pearce recalled in Arizona, the "personhood" measure in Mississippi defeated, an anti-union measure repealed in Ohio. And the effort to roll back some of the extremist measures unleashed by GOP lawmakers at the state level continues on, with Wisconsinites looking ahead to an effort to recall Governor Scott Walker. (For a comprehensive take on how that effort is faring, see Abe Sauer's recent piece in The Awl.)
For the activist left, these victories demonstrate the value of exploiting these democratic processes. But if you glance over at the results in Michigan, you can find an example where winning a recall battle may leave the recall's proponents worse off instead of better.
Last night, by a narrow margin, Michigan residents voted to recall State Representative Paul Scott (R-Grand Blanc). Scott, the first state lawmaker to be recalled in Michigan in 28 years, had run afoul of an organization called Citizens Against Government Overreach and the Michigan Education Association because as chair of Michigan's House Education Committee, he shepherded House Bill 4466 to passage. MEA describes their objections like so:
Under the bill, if one or more public school employees strike, their union would be kicked out for five years. A school superintendent or parent could report any strike activity – and, if enacted, a union could be decertified even if no actual strike occurred.
The bill would make it illegal for a union or union representative to “solicit or encourage” any public employee to strike or to “conspire” to cause a strike, even if they didn’t actually engage in a work stoppage.
This was in addition to a measure that would make it illegal -- and punishable by up to a year in prison -- for Michigan educators to send union-related emails to one another "over public school e-mail servers."
Last night, Scott's recall was greeted with elation by those who had supported it. Eclectablog celebrated "the little GOP recall that could." The MEA's director of public affairs, Doug Pratt, told reporters, "This isn't just a victory for the 51st District...(This is for) everyone in the state of Michigan who felt Republicans have attacked our schools."
But at the same time, there was a suggestion that Michigan Republicans were "poised to strike back" at those who'd forced Scott's ouster:
Tuesday's recall of Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, could mean Republicans are out for blood against the Michigan Education Association and others who worked to oust Scott from office, said Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter.
"I thought all along this was a war they could not win," Ballenger said following Scott's concession late Tuesday. "I think ultimately they're going to pay a price for this. It's conceivable this could have been the worse result for the MEA and the recallers than if Scott beat the recall."
In a formal statement released this morning, the MEA's Pratt knit up their recall victory with others around the nation, and suggested that voters had sent Republican lawmakers a strong message:
“While it was a close, hard-fought race, voters have clearly spoken – they’re fed up with Republican politicians in Lansing attacking public education and the middle class.
“Voters didn’t send Paul Scott to Lansing to pave the way for a power grab by corporate special interests – cutting schools, taxing pensions and providing tax handouts to businesses with no promise of creating jobs. Last night’s results prove that voters will hold lawmakers accountable for assaults on the middle class.
“This is more than just a victory for voters in the 51st District who feel Paul Scott hasn’t been representing their interests – it’s a victory for every Michigan voter who feels misled by Republicans and their agenda this year in Lansing.
“Voter anger and a turning of the tide is not just happening here. In Ohio, voters overturned Gov. John Kasich’s anti-union bill, Senate Bill 5. Voters there – and here – are tired of Republican politicians spending more time vilifying unions than creating jobs and preserving our middle class.
“Our sincere hope is that Republican politicians see this for what it is – a statement from voters that Lansing is on the wrong path. We stand ready, as always, to work with leaders from both parties to ensure strong public schools are there for our children and our economy.
“But, if they choose not to change course, we stand ready – along with the rest of the 99% -- to elect new leaders in 2012 who will stand up for kids and the middle class, not of corporate CEOs and the elite 1%.”
Well, guess what? There seems to be no plan to change course. As Ballenger predicted, the recall has resulted in a worse outcome for Michigan teachers, as today Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) named state Representative Tom McMillin (R-Rochester Hills) to serve as the interim chair of the Education Committee. The Michigan Information and Research Service recently named McMillin as the lawmaker in the state with the most conservative voting record, and he's long been opposed by the MEA because of his support for public school privatization.
As former GOP Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop tweeted, "The MEA spent $150k dollars only to get their nemesis, Representative Tom McMillin, appointed as the chairman of the education committee."
This is, in part, a lesson in the Law of Unintended Consequences. But the larger lesson here is that even if your effort to support the middle class by recalling some of its enemies succeeds, there's nothing that compels those lawmakers left in power to respect the wishes of the winners.