Recall is on | National results boost local hopes

Lisa Neff and Louis Weisberg, Staff reporters

As critics of Gov. Scott Walker officially launched their recall campaign, they were buoyed by Nov. 8 election returns from other states signaling political momentum against extremist Republican policies.

The recall effort originally was slated to begin on Nov. 15, but a Walker supporter jump-started it on the governor’s behalf to take advantage of a loophole in state campaign finance law.  The loophole allows Walker to raise unlimited funds in his effort to hold onto office.

Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate denounced the ploy, calling it “criminal.” 

“No matter how dirty the Republicans play or how much outside cash the Koch brothers spend on false and misleading ads, the people of Wisconsin … will have their day, and they will recall Scott Walker,” Tate said.

Nov. 8 election returns bolstered Tate’s optimism. 

In Ohio, voters defeated Issue 2 and repealed Republican Gov. John Kasich’s law stripping public employees of basic workplace rights, including the right to collective bargaining. Kasich’s law went further than Walker’s so-called “budget repair bill” by including police and firefighters unions. Even though those functions represent the greatest cost to municipalities, Walker exempted their unions after getting their support in his gubernatorial campaign.

Following the vote, Kasich appeared conciliatory. “I’ve heard (voters’) voices,” he said. “I understand their decision, and, frankly, I respect what people have to say in an effort like this.  And as a result of that, it requires me to take a deep breath, you know, and to spend some time reflecting on what happened here.”

But Walker just “doubled-down as he always does,” said Democratic Wisconsin state Sen. Chris Larson, who attended an event at which the governor spoke on Nov. 9. He said Walker dismissed the Ohio results, saying that his policies have been successful and Wisconsinites have embraced them.

Larson and other Democrats scoffed at the governor’s bluster.

Celebrating the Ohio returns, United Steel Workers president Leo Gerard said the 99 percent stood up and fought back with votes.

“We stood together, public and private sector – union and non-union – to start a new direction and declaration to the extremist politicians that Ohio voters reject their agenda,” Gerard said.

The campaign against Issue 2 – a “yes” was a vote for the anti-union law – involved a coalition of Democratic groups, unions and progressive allies, including LGBT organizations such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Pride at Work.

Issue 2 “was an important victory,” said Brad Woodhouse of the Democratic National Committee. “Especially because of the millions in Tea Party and special interest money that poured into the state.”

Larson and others said the Ohio results were a shot in the arm to the Walker recall effort. Voter turnout in Ohio was the highest for an odd-year election since 1991, showing that progressive voters have re-engaged after sitting out the November 2010 election and allowing right-wing extremists to take over control of government in several states, including Wisconsin.

Larson said Walker’s “unflinching” posture on the Ohio vote would help progressives further.

“If you listen to his tone and how he’s talking, he still has the same attitude, the same drive and the same push that he did when he took the Koch brother’s (fake phone) call,” Larson said. “I think that attitude is the biggest motivator for people. The guy just continues along like opposition doesn’t even exit. He’s become the biggest organizing tool for the Democratic Party in a generation.”

OVERREACH

Right-leaning media, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, have attempted to position the recall campaign as a single-issue effort motivated by Walker’s elimination of collective bargaining rights for public employees. But the governor’s opponents cite his overreach in many areas, all of them aimed at furthering a religious/corporate right-wing agenda at the expense of working- and middle-class Wisconsinites.

Walker’s opponents were incensed in mid-November when the GOP put Wisconsin’s successful Badgercare program on the chopping block. Begun by former Republican Gov. Thommy Thompson, the program provides healthcare security for more than three-quarters of a million citizens. Walker and his Republican allies floated a plan to drop 53,000 people from the program. 

“Slashing BadgerCare actually increases the cost of private insurance, which will end up footing much of the bill for emergency room visits and other uncompensated care for the newly uninsured and underinsured,” warned Robert Kraig, director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, in an op-ed piece.

Kraig and others have pointed out that Walker’s massive cuts to public education and health care have allowed the governor to slash corporate taxes in the state by $1.6 billion. Walker claims the cuts are part of a strategy to bring new jobs to the state.

But 10 months into Walker’s tenure, his record of job creation has lagged far behind his promises, and the state’s unemployment rate has actually risen. Meanwhile, Republicans in Madison have focused legislative energy on unrelated issues, such as concealed carry and defunding Planned Parenthood. 

United Wisconsin, the group organizing the Walker recall effort, says its backers are grassroots Wisconsinites who are motivated by the totality of Walker’s extremist overreach, not just his assault on union workers. Walker and others have tried to depict United Wisconsin as a front group for unions.

“We know who we are,” Kevin Straka, a United Wisconsin founder, countered, in a statement to the La Crosse Tribune. “We have no identity crisis.”

While Straka acknowledged his group is working with labor groups and the Democratic Party to recall Walker, he said UW does not answer to them in the same way that Wisconsin Republicans obey marching orders from Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. Rove and David Koch are able to disseminate instructions to GOP leaders at the state level through their American Legislative Exchange Council, which provides them with cookie-cutter laws to introduce in their legislatures in exchange for providing them with massive campaign cash.

CHINS UP

Out state Rep. Mark Pocan, a candidate for the congressional seat being vacated by Tammy Baldwin as she runs for the U.S. Senate, said the vote in Ohio was “just a sign of what is about to happen all over the country to Republicans who follow the (corporate right) playbook. There is no place in America for right-wing extremist ideals that place politics before people.”

Nov. 8 also saw the election of over 50 LGBT candidates nationwide (see page 8). Some of the right-wing defeats were stunning.

In Mississippi, voters rejected the Personhood Amendment, which would have established in the state Constitution that “personhood” begins at the moment of fertilization. Republicans are promoting the same measure in Madison (see page 4).

Opponents of the Mississippi measure again included a coalition of Democratic groups, unions and civil liberties organizations, especially those committed to choice.

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force activists campaigned along with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Mississippians for Healthy Families.

“In what Gallup ranks as the most conservative state in the nation, voters of all political persuasions rejected the measure,” Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

In Michigan, voters recalled state Rep. Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc, a close legislative ally of right-wing Gov. Rick Snyder. Scott’s recall was led by the Michigan Education Association, which said his defeat vindicated their complaints that Snyder and Republican majorities in the Legislature ignored the will of the people by enacting cuts to public education, extending the state income tax to some pension income and repealing the state’s primary business tax.

“That voters in Michigan threw out one of Snyder’s biggest lap dogs was a huge win for public education,” said Scot Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now.

In Maine, voters supported a push to reinstate same-day voter registration, a nearly 40-year-old policy repealed by the GOP-dominated Legislature in June.

Just before the election, opponents of same-day registration ran ads in more than two dozen newspapers suggesting that a state LGBT civil rights group, Equality Maine, was driving the ballot measure and had a secret, subversive agenda. The ad asked, “Why is this special interest group so interested in repealing Maine election laws?”

Betsy Smith of Equality Maine told the press, “You could tell it was a desperate move on their part to try to confuse the issue or to get people who’re against same-sex marriage to oppose voter registration.”

In Arizona, voters recalled state Sen. Russell Pearce, the author of the nation’s toughest anti-immigration bill. Democrats led the drive to put the recall on the ballot, and Pearce lost to a moderate Republican.

The Arizona Republican Party had stood with Pearce through the controversial race, claiming he was the target of a “coordinated attack on legitimate Arizona voters by the Democrat Party in collusion with their Acorn and LaRaza-like community organizers.”

Republicans in Wisconsin have introduced a measure similar to Pearce’s, but it hasn’t garnered enough support to move forward.

In Michigan, Traverse City voters approved Prop. 1, deciding to retain an ordinance protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

But Democrats also lost some issues on Nov. 8:

• In Ohio, voters favored a symbolic referendum against the individual mandate that’s central to President Obama’s healthcare overhaul.  The vote for Issue 3 was 2-1, a wider margin than on Issue 2.

Yes on Issue 3 was driven by Tea Party leaders and a group called FreedomWorks. But Larson said progressives in Ohio focused little attention on Issue 3. “They directed their attention to Issue 2,” he said. “They didn’t want to waste it on the healthcare thing, because they knew that measure was not binding.” 

• Republicans held their majority in Virginia, a vital state in 2012, and won all but one statewide race in Mississippi.

• In Mississippi, voters passed a measure amending the state constitution to require voters to show government-issued photo IDs when they enter polling places.

Supporters – the state GOP, the secretary of state and Voter ID PAC – argued that the measure was needed to halt fraud. Opponents, led by the NAACP, argued that the measure was intended to suppress Democratic votes.

But  Wisconsin progressives said overall that the results of Nov. 8 showed political traction is on their side. In Madison, the protest singers who’ve shown up at the Capitol Rotunda for the past 200-plus days showed renewed vigor on Nov. 9. 

“There were a lot more of them, and they were a lot louder today,” said a legislative aide at the Capitol. “Democrats were walking today with their chins a little higher.”