I had lunch with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten this afternoon here in New York. Our conversation was filled with interesting tidbits, and I'll give it a fuller treatment on the blog tomorrow. For now, I want to share her take on the recall vote in Wisconsin yesterday, in which Democrats won two of the six Republican seats up for grabs, falling two seats short of the number needed to gain control of the state senate.
The election was an important milestone for labor unions, which spent millions attempting to recall Republican lawmakers allied with Gov. Scott Walker, who successfully curtailed collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees. Conservative organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, funded by the Koch brothers, also poured millions into the state. "If you don't think Citizens United had an impact, just look at Wisconsin," Weingarten said, referring to conservative fundraising in particular.
She spent Monday on the ground in Wisconsin with union and Democratic organizers, who were operating in districts that typically lean Republican. "Setting a high bar and not reaching it is disappointing, but getting this close was amazing," she said. "I'm really proud of them. Being there was so inspirational." This afternoon, Weingarten raised questions about voting irregularities in Waukesha County, which released its results late in the evening after both yesterday's vote and the May Supreme Court election. And she also pointed out that mid-August is a terrible time to campaign on public school issues, since many families with children are away from home.
"The labor movement is always about those who have little power fighting back," Weingarten said. "We don't always win the first time around. But those who try and suppress people now know that they're going to have a real fight on their hands."