Recall, elections dominated Wisconsin headlines in 2012

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. - PHOTO: Provided

Wisconsin’s governor survived a recall attempt and Janesville’s congressman had a shot at becoming vice president. There were five statewide elections in seven months, making it nearly impossible to escape robocalls and campaign ads. A white supremacist killed worshippers at a Sikh temple, a judge struck down a contentious collective-bargaining law and three Wisconsin soldiers were killed.

Some of the names and stories that defined the state in 2012:


• Scott Walker: He became the nation’s first governor to win a recall election when he turned back a Democratic effort to oust him for pushing to end collective-bargaining rights for most public workers. Walker beat Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by 7 percentage points, in a rematch of the 2010 governor’s race. Walker’s lieutenant governor and three GOP state senators also survived recall attempts, but state Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine was defeated.

• Paul Ryan: Ryan’s political career got a major boost when he was selected as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate. Although Romney lost, Ryan retained his House seat and will resume his role as Budget Committee chairman. Ryan has hinted at a presidential run in 2016.

• Candidate visits: As Wisconsin’s importance as a presidential battleground state grew more evident, politicians from both parties logged visits to Milwaukee, Madison and the Fox Valley areas. There were stops from Barack and Michelle Obama, Biden and former President Bill Clinton. Romney, Ryan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made appearances as well.

• We approve this message — again: The presidential race capped off a seemingly endless election cycle, with five statewide elections between April and November. All those campaigns, along with outside groups, spent millions of dollars on TV ads, glossy mail and robocalls. But in the end little changed: Obama carried Wisconsin again, Walker held on, all seven congressional incumbents won, the U.S. Senate seat remained in Democratic hands and Republicans maintained the Assembly and regained the state Senate.

• Tammy vs. Tommy: Sen. Herb Kohl’s pending retirement triggered the most expensive U.S. Senate fight in state history. Fellow Democrat and former U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin won, becoming Wisconsin’s first female senator and also the first openly gay candidate ever elected to the chamber. She defeated former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who had never before lost a statewide race.


• Collective bargaining: The issue that prompted the entire Walker recall got sidelined by Dane County Judge Juan Colas. The law limited collective bargaining for most public employees, but Colas ruled in September that it violated union members’ constitutional rights to free speech and equal representation. Republicans have said they’ll ask the state appeals court to place the ruling on hold.

• Voter ID: A new law favored by Republicans went into effect requiring voters to show photo identification at the ballot box. The law was in place for a February primary but two judges blocked the measure for any subsequent election in 2012. Republican state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen pledged to continue fighting to have the law upheld.

• Health Exchanges: Staying true to his longtime opposition to Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Walker joined with other Republican governors in deciding to hand off creation of an online health exchange to the federal government.


• Sikh temple: For reasons that remain unknown, a white supremacist opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek in August. Wade Michael Page killed six people and injured four others, then took his own life. Michelle Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder were among the dignitaries who paid their respects.

• Spa shooting: About two months later, another gunman took innocent lives in southeastern Wisconsin. Radcliffe Franklin Haughton, who had terrorized his wife for years, killed her and two other women at the spa where she worked. Four other women were wounded before Haughton killed himself.

• John Doe: A secret investigation into six former Walker aides and associates appears to be wrapping up. Five of the six were convicted on charges ranging from theft to doing campaign work on county time. The John Doe investigation, which involved allegations against people close to Walker during his time as the Milwaukee County executive, began six months before Walker was elected governor. Walker has not been charged.

• Milwaukee Archdiocese bankruptcy: About 500 men and women filed sex-abuse claims against the Milwaukee Archdiocese by a February deadline, a step that came after the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy the previous year. The archdiocese said pending sex-abuse lawsuits could leave it deep in debt.


• Unemployment: Wisconsin’s unemployment rate continued to track better than the national level. The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October was 6.7 percent, compared to 7.7 percent in November for the U.S. However, according to PolitiFact, Wisconsin has created about 25,000 jobs on Walker’s watch, far from the 250,000 he promised as a candidate.


• Thirsty crops: A persistent drought took its toll across much of the nation. In Wisconsin, harvests of tart cherries and maple syrup were decimated. But the heat was good for consumers who like their peppers potent, because certain vegetables grown in overheated conditions produce more of the chemical that gives peppers their spicy kick.

• Heavy rains: A summer storm dumped as much as 6 inches of rain in parts of northern Wisconsin. The June storm caused more than $23 million in damage at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where nearly every building sustained flooding damage.

• Snow-free Milwaukee: Milwaukee set a record by going 288 consecutive days without measurable snowfall.


• Night deer hunt: A federal judge in December blocked the state’s Chippewa bands’ attempt to allow tribal hunters to go after deer at night, a move that flew in the face of the state’s long-standing ban on the practice.

• Wolf hunt: Lawmakers created the state’s first organized wolf hunt. The goal was to harvest 116 wolves during this year’s inaugural hunt. Those goals will likely be reached before the official end of the season Feb. 28.

• Mining: The Legislature failed to pass a mining bill that would have jump-started an iron-ore mine in northwestern Wisconsin. The GOP-authored bill died in the state Senate after Republican Dale Schultz broke ranks. But Republicans’ majority grows to 18-15 next year and they plan to reintroduce the measure.