But for one state Senate district in Wisconsin, the mean selfish streak that is the dark underbelly of American individualism won out last night. In the major recall election in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker became the first incumbent governor in American history to survive a recall election. Workers everywhere now know just where they can stick it. Wisconsinites will have to deal with Walker’s over-the-top unctuousness for a while longer. The only sliver of a silver lining to the recall elections is that one of the four Republican state Senators up for recall apparently did not survive. I say “apparently” because Democrat John Lehman beat Republican Van Wanggaard by less than a thousand votes, which will likely trigger a recount. (And, yes, I know the Republican’s name is “wang guard,” but let’s stay out of the third grade, shall we?) If Lehman indeed wins this election, it means Democrats control the state Senate in Wisconsin, 17 to 16. If they had control when Gov. Walker rammed his let’s-murder-unions-in-their-sleep bill through, it would never have passed the Senate. And after Lehman is confirmed — assuming he is — that should put an end to further draconian anti-everyone-but-the-Koch-brothers schemes on the part of Walker, at least until November, and possibly afterward assuming the Democrats can keep their seats.
But Wisconsin wasn’t the only state to vote yesterday. The greedheads won elsewhere. In California, the cities of San Diego and San Jose both voted overwhelmingly to cut the pensions of current workers and retirees. This plan is markedly different than pension cuts elsewhere, in which future city workers would face lesser pension benefits than their predecessors. Instead, these plans cut the pensions of already-retired city workers who were under the impression they would have that money to get them through retirement. No more. Both cities faced real funding problems and pension payments made up at least a fifth of city budgets in both places. However, both San Jose and San Diego are the 47th and 52nd wealthiest cities in the country. Ballooning pension payments were a problem, but these underfunded cities really needed more revenue for roads, schools, police and fire departments. Unfortunately, in California, raising taxes is an even larger impossibility than in the rest of the country. Proposition 13, which passed in 1978, limits property taxes to just 1 percent of the cash value of the property. Particularly in coastal areas, where real estate prices are sky-high (read: places like San Diego and San Jose) the proposition has had the effect of bankrupting municipalities and forcing them to rely on the state government for funding – which is a problem when the state teeters on the brink of bankruptcy itself, as is the case in California. Another part of Proposition 13 requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature for any tax increases. This has had the effect of bankrupting both municipalities and the state government. And now, with yesterday’s pension votes, the people of California have officially begun eating their own. No one is willing to pay a penny more, and so everyone starves together. Greed wins.
And California didn’t even have the decency to give us a carnival in the Senate race there as compensation! Under state election laws, all parties are lumped together in the primary, and the two largest vote-getters then face each other in the general election. That means it’s entirely possible that two Democrats or Republicans could be battling it out in November – not likely, but a possibility. (That said, many state legislators are facing just such an intraparty war come November.) Democrat Dianne Feinstein easily came out on top, and second place was unsurprisingly a Republican, but it was autism advocate Elizabeth Emken, not birther yahoo Orly Taitz, who finished in fifth place. Everyone from me all the way up to Jon Stewart is surely weeping tears over this. A Taitz Senate run would have been the most hysterical thing to happen since Christine O’Donnell. Ah well.