(Photo: Courtesy legis.wisconsin.gov)
While opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker submitted to the state more than 1 million signatures to recall the incumbent and force a new election, one Black lawmaker in the state says that the message has significant implications for African-Americans throughout the country.
Spencer Coggs, a Wisconsin state senator whose district is anchored in Milwaukee, said that the collection of twice the number of signatures required by law should tell Americans — and particularly Black voters — that ordinary citizens can have a significant impact on the politics of their communities and states.
“This demonstrates that the power of people represents the great equalizer,” Coggs said, in an interview with BET.com. “We can’t outspend the conservative right. But we can outvote and outmaneuver them.”
Gov. Walker, a Republican, came to office a year ago and created a political firestorm by significantly diminishing the power of unions, specifically eliminating collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. Once the signatures are ruled to be valid, the governor will face a new election either in the spring or early summer.
So far, only two governors have been removed as the result of a recall effort.
Coggs, a Democrat, said that African-Americans around the country should be heartened by the developments in Wisconsin because they represent a passionate and successful undertaking by progressive citizens — in a state in which Black residents make up just 10 percent of the population.
“It’s a sign that there is a progressive movement that can take on the attacks from a dictatorial governor — and other Republican governors around the country,” Coggs said. “It shows that when people stand up around the country en masse, things can happen.”
Furthermore, he said, Black Americans should be encouraged by the recent events in Wisconsin because the recall is aimed at protecting the role of public employee unions, which Coggs described as having long been a source of job security for African-Americans.
“As a people, we have done well with union jobs,” said Coggs, who had been an official in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union for a number of years. “I know the impact that union jobs have on our wages, our health care and our very ability to keep a job. If it weren’t for unions, we often wouldn’t have a hedge to protect us against being the last hired and first fired.”
Coggs is part of the so-called Wisconsin 14, a group of Democratic state senators who left the state for a short period and traveled to neighboring Illinois to protest Republican legislation to weaken union rights for public workers and to prevent the Senate from taking up votes.
After returning, Coggs himself was the target of a Republican-led effort to recall him and another Democratic state senator. However, the Republicans failed to secure the number of signatures required to force a recall and new election.
The petitions submitted this week also call for the recall election of the state’s lieutenant governor, as well as four Republican state senators. The Republicans control the State Senate by a margin of 17 to 16. Coggs said he and other Democrats hope that their party will not only win back the governor’s seat they lost after the 2010 election, but to also regain control of the State Senate.
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