It's tempting to parse what Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's success in fending off recall Tuesday portends for the presidential election. But that would just be smoke and spin. Wisconsin is one state, voter recalls can be quirky, and it's a long time to November.
There is a clearer message, however, from Walker's win -- public unions have fallen out of favor with that state's voters. Their support for the Republican governor who extracted tough concessions from state workers and then curtailed their collective bargaining rights, should be a cautionary tale about changing sentiments.
With a moribund economy and flat private-sector wages, more voters are looking askance at the generous pay, health insurance and pension packages government workers enjoy. Voters in San Jose and San Diego, Calif., overwhelmingly approved cuts in pensions for city employees. Voters aren't happy about the paradox of funding benefits for public-sector workers that are far more generous than their own compensation.
That's certainly the case in New York. We see officials local officials, especially in Yonkers and Rockland, struggling to close gaping budget holes and taxpayers chafing under the weight of property taxes among the highest in the nation.
Public unions that ignore this bubbling discontent do so at their own peril. Voters know this is not the typical economic cycle. The good times will not come back that quickly. Negotiating a balance on wages and benefits that all concerned can live with is in everyone's best interest.
The issue of collective bargaining rights wasn't the only one raised by Wisconsin's recall battle. The event became a broader canvas of the national worries about deficits, future growth, spending and the size of government. These issues illuminated the waning clout of unions and the influence of ever larger mountains of money in politics. Democrats and unions spent lavishly in the effort to oust Walker, but Republican and super PACs supporting him outspent them by at least 3 to 1.
Similar wars will play a role in the presidential election, but the loudest message from Wisconsin is that an awful lot of voters see public employees as part of the problem.