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January 2012, Week 3

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Mon, 16 Jan 2012 09:04:30 -0500
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Governor Who Took On Unions May Face a Closely Watched
Recall Election

By MONICA DAVEY

New York Times
January 15, 2012

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/16/us/scott-walker-recall-drive-is-closely-watched.html

MILWAUKEE — Thousands of volunteers have raced to
collect signatures near busy intersections and malls
all over Wisconsin, at makeshift “drive-through”
operations in parking lots, during Green Bay Packers
viewing parties and New Year’s Eve pub crawls, and even
at a fold-up table inside Milwaukee’s airport just off
Concourse C.

By a state deadline on Tuesday, these volunteers, many
of them Democrats and union supporters, say they will
submit at least 720,000 names on petitions to recall
Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican who curtailed
collective bargaining rights for public workers,
leading to a face-off in this state.

Only two governors in the nation’s history have lost
their jobs in recalls, but Mr. Walker himself
acknowledges that, presuming there are no major flaws
in the petitions, a recall election appears likely.
That puts his removal, which would have a vote in late
spring or early summer, within the realm of
possibility.

Politicians and political operatives far beyond
Wisconsin will be watching closely, not just for what
the recall effort may imply for other state’s leaders
who are considering cuts to workers’ benefits and union
powers as a way to solve budget problems, but also as a
sign for the presidential race. Wisconsin was one of
several pivotal Midwestern states that gave Barack
Obama solid victories in 2008 but then elected
Republicans, including Mr. Walker, in significant
numbers in 2010. Money from outside the state is
certain to pour in from both sides for the recall vote.

In an interview in which Mr. Walker reflected on what
he described as his “very surreal” first year in
office, he spoke of the outside forces. “I think
there’s a real sense that the government unions don’t
want anybody — Republican or Democrat — doing this,”
Mr. Walker said of his moves to limit benefits and
bargaining rights for public workers. “And they’re
going to try to make an example of me.”

Although recall organizers, calling themselves United
Wisconsin, say they expect to submit thousands more
signatures than the 540,208 required for a new election
(or one-quarter of the voters for governor in 2010),
Mr. Walker said he believed he could ultimately hold
onto his job. “I look at it optimistically and say that
means there’s still a majority of voters in the state
who opted not to sign a recall petition and hopefully a
majority of whom want us to still keep moving the state
forward.”

Around Wisconsin, where control of the governor’s
office and both chambers of the Legislature flipped to
Republican from Democratic a year ago, people complain
that the tone of political discourse has turned
uncharacteristically feverish, polarized and ugly —
with the recall effort, which formally began in
November, as only the latest evidence.

Scores of problems have been claimed: intentionally
scribbled-on petitions, physical altercations about
petitions, fake names on petitions, and a slew of
screamed bad words (not to mention at least one egg)
exchanged over petitions. Some Democrats say they began
carrying cameras in case they needed to document
untoward acts. And Republicans launched a “Recall
Integrity Center” Web site where people could report
“shady tactics” from the other side.

“One of the worst things that’s happened in this state
is how divided it’s become over this, even inside some
families,” said Marlene Ott, who was gathering recall
signatures last week inside the airport. Several people
holding boarding passes spotted her portable stand and
stopped to sign. But another passer-by, clutching the
hands of two young girls, called out angrily, “This is
disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful!”

“Why,” the man, Henri Kinson of Whitewater, asked
afterward, “should my granddaughters pay for these
entitlements they’re calling rights?”

The move against the governor is only part of the
turmoil here. Separate recall drives are under way
against the Republican lieutenant governor, Rebecca
Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators,
including Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader, who
helped pass Mr. Walker’s collective bargaining plan
after Senate Democrats left Wisconsin to prevent a
vote. Last summer, the same issue led to nine recall
elections, which resulted in two Senate seats changing
hands and a narrower Republican majority of 17 to 16.

Carol Carlin, a retired teacher whose signs beckoned
people to park in the driveway of her Milwaukee County
house and add their names to recall petitions, said the
psyches of public workers had been devastated by Mr.
Walker’s cuts. “People don’t want to become teachers
when you are absolutely treated as the leeches on the
system,” she said.

Mr. Walker has said his cuts to collective bargaining
were needed to solve a $3.6 billion state budget
deficit and defends the move as one element of a plan
to turn the state’s economic climate around. But his
critics’ complaints now reach beyond the union issue,
to questions about his handling of the environment,
about a criminal investigation focused on people who
worked for Milwaukee County during his tenure as county
executive, and about his promises of 250,000 new jobs
in the state during his four-year term.

In recent consecutive months, the state has been losing
jobs, government estimates show, and since Mr. Walker
took office, fewer than 20,000 new private sector jobs
have been reported.

Recall movements around the country have increased in
recent years, but they are by no means simple.
Officials with the Wisconsin Government Accountability
Board, which oversees elections here, have estimated
that a recall will cost at least $9 million, starting
this week with a review of petitions that will require
50 temporary workers, extra office space, extremely
tight security and at least 60 days of study for
omissions and duplicated names. Legal challenges are
also possible before a new election is assured.

Among the biggest hurdles facing Democrats: they have
not settled on a candidate. Under Wisconsin’s rules,
Mr. Walker would appear on a recall ballot against an
opponent. There would not merely be, as in some of the
other 18 states with recall laws, an up-or-down vote on
retention and then another election later.

Several names, including those of Mayor Tom Barrett of
Milwaukee, who lost to Mr. Walker in 2010, and Kathleen
Falk, a former Dane County executive, have been
mentioned, but a Democratic primary appears possible.
At least some of the most widely known Democrats,
including Russell D. Feingold, a former senator, have
said they are not running.

In 2008, Mr. Obama won here by almost 14 percentage
points, and a Republican presidential candidate has not
won Wisconsin since 1984. But overwhelming Republican
victories in 2010 and a State Supreme Court election in
2011 in which a justice seen as aligned with the
Republicans held onto his job by a nearly even split of
the state has raised new questions for races in the
fall, including a United States Senate seat left open
by the retirement of Herb Kohl, a Democrat.

“It’s an early skirmish, a dry run, a fight of proxies
and laboratory for experimentation,” Mordecai Lee, a
former state legislator who teaches at the University
of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said of the recall’s
significance for the presidential election.

On both sides, the recall could create a testing ground
for larger national themes about collective bargaining
and unions, and build volunteer and political
operations (not to mention a list of some 720,000
recall signers) long before fall.

Facing the possibility of joining the ranks of Gray
Davis, a California governor recalled in 2003, and Lynn
Frazier, a North Dakota governor recalled in 1921, Mr.
Walker said he wished he had approached the collective
bargaining issue differently — not in terms of his
position, but in the way he laid the groundwork about
the need for change to voters. “I never realized,” he
said, “how much national money and attention would come
in on this particular issue.”

____________________________________________

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