Voters finally get their say in Wisconsin recall
By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON— The battle over Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda has attracted millions of dollars from out of state, campaign volunteers from across the country and months of concentrated attention from the two major political parties.
But on Tuesday, the only voices that matter will be those of Wisconsin voters deciding whether to keep Walker or fire him and hand his job to the Milwaukee mayor. After more than a year in the national spotlight, both sides are preparing for a razor-thin margin.
Polls show Walker, a Republican just 17 months into his term, with a small lead over Democrat Tom Barrett.
“You know what distresses me?” state Sen. Mark Miller said to a group of Democratic volunteers last week in Madison. “It’s close. It’s so darn close.”
During Monday’s first campaign stop, Walker said he expected a close race, too, and he’s focused on turning out voters who supported his efforts to take on public-employee unions.
“We want to move on and move forward,” Walker said at a plastics plant near Madison. He was joined by his wife, Tonette, who wore a button that read “Luv My Gov.”
Walker planned other campaign stops at a brewery in Stevens Point and a distillery in Green Bay before wrapping up with an evening rally in Milwaukee.
Barrett was spending most of Monday in western and northern Wisconsin before ending his day with a rally at a United Auto Workers union hall in Kenosha.
Walker only is the third governor in U.S. history to face a recall vote. The other two lost, most recently California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. Wisconsin’s recall election is a rematch of the 2010 governor’s race in which Walker defeated Barrett by 5 percentage points.
Walker’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, and three Republican state senators also face recall votes Tuesday. In addition, voters will fill a fourth state Senate seat after the Republican incumbent resigned rather than face the recall.
Anger over Walker and his conservative agenda began building almost as soon as he took office in January 2011. Just a month into his term, Walker took the state by surprise with a proposal to effectively end collective bargaining for most state workers. The recall idea emerged soon thereafter.
But the recall petition drive officially couldn’t start until November, months after Walker signed the union changes into law. Organizers hit the streets a week before Thanksgiving and spent two months gathering more than 900,000 signatures, about 360,000 more than were needed to trigger the election.
Retired teacher Jan Stebbins cast her ballot early for Barrett, just as she did two years ago. She said she’s been offended by Walker, not by what he’s done but “how he’s done it.”
Stebbins can’t stand the division that’s emerged in the past two years.
By Wednesday morning, she is wishing the state “gets back to a little bit more unity,” she said. “I don’t know what will happen.”
Todd Schober, a financial planner from Racine, voted for Walker in 2010 and plans to do so again Tuesday.
“When is this going to end?” he asked after shaking his head and sighing. “I’m just going to be so glad when it’s all over.”
Walker, the 44-year-old son of a minister, has remained unflappable throughout the campaign just as he was during the massive protests that raged at the Statehouse for weeks as lawmakers debated his proposal.
Along the way, he’s become a star among Republicans and the most successful money raiser in Wisconsin politics, collecting at least $31 million from around the country since taking office. That obliterated his money raising record of $11 million from 2010.
About $63 million has been spent on the race so far, including $16 million from conservative groups such as the Republican Governors Association, Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association.
Democratic groups, including those financed by unions, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic National Committee, have poured in about $14 million, based on a tally from the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
The majority of Walker’s donations have come from people outside Wisconsin. Most of Barrett’s $4.2 million came from inside the state.
The race has implications for national labor unions. It’s also seen as a proxy fight for the presidential election, especially given the importance of Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes.
President Barack Obama has kept his distance, just as he did during the unrest last year. Other prominent Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, campaigned for Barrett in the week leading up to the vote.
White House press secretary Jeff Carney was asked during a briefing Monday why Obama wasn’t campaigning for Barrett.
“The president supports him, stands by him,” Carney said, adding that Obama wants Barrett to prevail.
Walker enlisted the support of several prominent national Republicans, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
A Marquette University Law School poll released last week showed Walker with a narrow 7-percentage point lead over Barrett, 52 percent to 45 percent. The poll’s margin of error was 4.1 percentage points. In the same poll two weeks earlier, Walker held a 6-point lead, 50 percent to 44 percent.
The poll also showed the deep division in Wisconsin, where 39 percent of respondents said they liked the job Walker had done and 38 percent said they did not like it. Twenty-one percent said they like what he’s done, just not how he did it.
In the days leading up to the election, they expressed a mixture of anticipation and fatigue with the political turmoil.
In the working-class city of Janesville, signs on both sides of the election were scattered across the community, some just a few feet apart.
Retired businessman Dave Flury plans to support Walker. And he’s worried about what will happen if Barrett wins.
“If Walker loses, shouldn’t Republicans turn right around and recall Barrett?” Flury asked.
For months, voters have been inundated with telephone calls, campaign mail and television advertising. Barrett supporter John Oehrke is ready for all of it to end.
“It doesn’t really matter who wins I guess,” Oehrke said. “It’s all crazy.”
Q: What started the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker?
A: The recall effort was born Feb. 11, 2011. That was when Walker released his plan to address a state budget shortfall that called on most public workers to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits, and, most important, give up nearly all their collective bargaining rights. The proposal set the recall fire, led to protests that lasted weeks and grew as large as 100,000 people. It motivated 14 Senate Democrats to flee the state for three weeks in a vain attempt to stop the bill. Walker signed it into law March 11 virtually unchanged from how he proposed it.
Q: Isn’t this unusual? How often do governors face recalls?
A: This is the third recall election of a governor in U.S. history. The other two were successful in throwing the incumbent out of office — against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
Q: If there’s an effort to kick Walker out of office, does that mean his approval rating is low?
A: The recall is more a result of how divided the state is over Walker and his policies. His approval rating among Wisconsin respondents in the most recent Marquette University Law School poll was 51 percent, just 1 percentage point less than President Barack Obama’s.
Q: Who’s footing the bill for the recall campaigns? Taxpayers? Or someone else?
A: There has been much ado about all the campaign money flowing into Wisconsin from out of state, and for good reason. The recall election has been unlike anything seen before in Wisconsin, with at least $62 million spent by the candidates and outside groups so far. Walker was the top spender at $29 million, with Democrats including Barrett spending about $4 million. Outside groups have spent $21 million and issue ad groups that don’t have to disclose their spending have put in at least $7.5 million. That, of course, is donated money. Taxpayers are anything but off the hook. The recall and a primary for it are special elections that otherwise would not be held. State elections officials estimate the cost of a statewide election to taxpayers is $9 million, for a total of $18 million.
Q: How has the economy played into the campaign? What are the candidates pledging to do to create jobs?
A: The recall may have started over collective bargaining, but the overriding issue has become job creation. Walker promised in 2010 to create 250,000 jobs over four years and he is not on pace to meet that goal. How far afield he is depends on what set of numbers are used to measure his promise. Monthly jobs figures, based on a survey of about 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers, show job creation is flat since Walker took office. But a combination of data, including 2011 numbers derived from a more comprehensive census of employers, shows about 33,000 new jobs have been created in Walker’s term.
Barrett, meanwhile, has been more vague, something Walker has used against him. Barrett has said he will adopt a comprehensive jobs agenda that emphasizes manufacturing, small business, clean energy, venture capital, high-tech and bio tech and our agricultural rural economy. He has criticized Walker for making jobs secondary to attacks on public employee unions.
Q: Is Walker the only politician on the ballot facing a recall? What about people who supported him?
A: The Walker-Barrett race is in the national spotlight for obvious reasons, but also on the ballot are recall elections for GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who faces Democrat Mahlon Mitchell, and four GOP state Senate seats. If Democrats can win any one of those seats, they will hold a majority in the Senate for the first time since 2010 and could obstruct any further advancement of Walker’s agenda if he wins.
Q. If someone does not like the results, can there be another recall?
A. Wisconsin law allows for recalls of anyone who has been in office for at least a year. The winner will serve the remainder of Walker’s current term, which runs through 2014. Office holders can only stand for recall once per term, so if Walker wins he will remain in office at least through 2014.
Q. Will turnout be an indicator of an outcome?
A. Turnout is key for both Walker and Barrett in a race that polls show has few undecided voters. Walker must pull strongly from Republican parts of the state, primarily in the conservative Milwaukee suburbs. Barrett needs to do well with his base in Madison and Milwaukee and keep Walker’s margin of victory low in the Republican-leaning Fox Valley area around Green Bay. The election, if it’s close, could be won or lost based on how well the candidates do in western Wisconsin in swing counties along the Mississippi border, as well as other swing parts of the state like in Racine County south of Milwaukee.
Q. What happens Wednesday?
A. If Walker wins the recall, little will change. He will remain governor, and Barrett will remain mayor of Milwaukee. However, if Barrett wins, Walker will remain in office for only a short time. The state elections board has just 18 days to issue a certificate declaring the election results official. When that’s done, he is no longer governor.
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