-By Daniel C. Vock
July 12, 2011- MILWAUKEE — When Wisconsin state Senator Alberta Darling, a Republican, first started gearing up for a recall election in the wake of mass labor protests, it looked like the race would focus on her support for a law that substantially weakened labor unions. But now, with little more than a month before the election, the message — if not the opposition — has changed.
These days, Darling’s opponents attack her for cutting aid to schools. They say she should do more to help the unemployed get government checks for a longer period of time. Darling has even come under fire for supporting changes to Medicare, the health insurance program for seniors which is run by the federal government, not the state.
“They are obviously trying to find the issue, or the set of issues, that will build together to recall me,” Darling says. “They are doing a lot of polling, they’re doing a lot of testing, they’re trying a lot of things.”
To those on the left, though, there is a lot to be angry about. Union rights may be the most contentious issue debated in Madison this year, but Republican rule brought an onslaught of other legislative activity that Democrats cannot stomach. In half a year, Republicans have seized on just about every volatile issue imaginable, including Planned Parenthood funds, racial profiling, in-state tuition for unauthorized immigrants, environmental regulations, lawsuit limits, voter identification and "concealed carry" weapons laws.
State Representative Sandy Pasch, the Democrat trying to unseat Darling, says she is focusing on issues other than labor because those are what voters in the mostly suburban district care about. “In my district, unions are not a big deal,” Pasch says. “They are not a real powerful interest group… But what really resonates with people are the cuts to public education.”
A series of nine recall elections across Wisconsin, starting Tuesday (July 12) and lasting until mid-August, will determine whether Republicans hold on to their majority in the state Senate or lose control over one of the three crucial levers of power in Wisconsin government. It will be a long process and, when it is all over, there is no guarantee that it will put to an end to the partisan strife that has split Wisconsin apart for the last year and thrown it into what feels like a never-ending, all-consuming campaign.