The seemingly endless saga pitting public service employees and their Democratic enablers against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has taken its latest turn. A coalition known as United Wisconsin, in coordination with the Democrat Party, has reportedly turned in petitions containing nearly one million signatures to the state’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) in an effort to oust the governor. The number far exceeds the total of 540,208 valid signatures, or 25 percent of all the votes cast in the 2010 election, required to engender a recall election. The petitioners also submitted approximately 305,000 more signatures than were needed to trigger a recall election against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and claimed they had sufficient numbers to force recall elections of four Republican state senators, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
The Governor remains unfazed. Furthermore, he put his finger on the petitioners’ primary agenda, one that was often obfuscated when the Republican-controlled state legislature voted to limit the power of government unions. While most of the media was focused on the limiting of collective bargaining for salary increases as the key sticking point between Democrats and Republicans, Walker’s success in getting the state out of the union dues-collecting business and the elimination of mandatory dues paid by union members are the most salient issues. “The real bottom line is, the national unions want their hands on the money,” Walker said in an interview with Fox News. “It’s all about the union money, it’s not about the workers’ money–they want those automatic dues, and they’ll spend just about anything to get that back.”
He went further. “The majority of people in this state put me in office to do what I said,” he added. “Interestingly enough, you have a recall election, normally you have a recall about someone who breaks their promises. We kept all of our promises and yet you’ve got a core group that are just sore about that.”
They’ve been sore for a long time. After Republicans were given control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature in the 2010 election, Democrat senators literally fled the state in an effort to prevent a vote from occurring. This was followed by boisterous, often ugly demonstrations at the capitol building in Madison. It was all for naught. A bill limiting the bargaining rights of state workers, increasing their contributions to their own health and pension plans, the elimination of mandatory dues, and the necessity of holding annual votes to remain unionized, was passed in an 18-1 vote in the senate on March 10th, and a 53-42 vote in the assembly on March 11th.
This effort was followed with an attempt to invalidate the law. On Thursday May 26th, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi issued a stay against the results of the legislation, because Democrats contended Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law had been violated. Sumi probably should have recused herself because her son, Jacob Sinderbrand, was a former lead field manager with the AFL-CIO, and data manager for the SEIU State Council. Both groups have members who are government workers in Wisconsin. Yet in the end, it didn’t matter. In a 4-3 ruling on June 14th, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Sumi had ”usurped the legislative power which the Wisconsin Constitution grants exclusively to the legislature” that the “legislature shall provide by law for the speedy publication of all laws.”
In anticipation of that ruling, efforts to alter the conservative tilt of the Wisconsin Supreme Court were undertaken. Incumbent Judge David Prosser was challenged by JoAnne Kloppenburg in a race for a seat on the high court. This effort also ended in failure as Prosser’s original margin of victory was 7,316 votes out of nearly 1.5 million cast. The win was initially seen as controversial because Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus reported on April 7th that, in her initial count, she had omitted 14,315 votes from the city of Brookfield which she had failed to save on her computer. As result, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board became involved in the matter, releasing a report characterizing Nickolaus’s behavior as having “violated the laws and procedures for administering the count–but that her actions were not willful, criminal misconduct.”
Either way, Ms. Kloppenburg had the right to challenge the results, because state law allows for such if a candidate’s margin of victory is less .5 percent of the vote. She did, but it was a futile effort. Prosser was eventually certified the winner with a margin of 7004 votes following a state-wide recount. Ms. Kloppenburg conceded in late May.
Next came the recall elections of state senators. Six Republicans and three Democrats were targeted. On July 19th, Democrat Dave Hansen easily survived recall. On August 9th, recall elections against six senate Republicans resulted in two-out-of-six Republicans being ousted. This was followed by yet another recall election of two Democratic senators on August 16th, both of whom successfully fended off Republican challengers. In the end, Republican control of the senate was reduced from a 19-14 margin to a one vote, 17-16 majority.
Now it’s Walker’s turn, and if he intends to challenge the petitions, he will have his hands full. The Government Accountability Board admits it will not will not check the validity of any of the signatures or addresses on the documents. “[C]hecking addresses, verifying ages, etc., is by law the responsibility of the incumbent,” said GAB spokesman Reid Magney. “If the incumbent files a challenge that says John Smith does not live at 123 Main Street, Onalaska, then the GAB must determine whether the challenge is correct and the name should be struck.”
This might explain why Walker’s challengers have collected so many more signatures than the law requires. Higher numbers of signatures makes ferreting out ineligible petitioners, or those that have signed more than one petition, far more difficult. Still, Republicans aim to deploy thousands of volunteers to make sure everything is legal. “We may want to make sure that Wisconsin voters are not disenfranchised,” state Republican Party spokesman Ben Sparks said.
Walker, who reiterated on Tuesday that he had long expected the recall to take place, admitted the vote would be close. But he also said he expected to prevail, because he eliminated the state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, laying off workers, or cutting into services like Medicaid. “I look forward to talking to the people of Wisconsin about my continued promises to control government spending, balance the budget, and hold the line on taxes,” he said in a statement. “Instead of going back to the days of billion-dollar budget deficits, double-digit tax increases and record job loss, I expect Wisconsin voters will stand with me and keep moving Wisconsin forward.”
Yesterday afternoon, Walker’s first Democratic challenger emerged: former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. Ms. Falk was first elected Dane County Executive in 1997. She finished third in a Democratic primary for governor in 2002, won the primary for attorney general in 2006, but lost to Republican J.B. Van Hollen. She resigned as county executive in late 2010, after nearly 14 years in office. No doubt other challengers will emerge as well.
And so it begins–again. Depending on the time it takes to count the signatures and whether or not there will be court challenges to same, the election is likely to be held in either May or June. In the meantime, Walker is on the fund-raising trail. As of mid-December, he had raised $5.1 million. About half of that total has come from out-of-state donors. He has also garnered the support of the Republican Governors Association which the launched website www.StandWithScott.com promoting his policies and accomplishments.
No doubt this election, much like this whole story, will be viewed as an indicator of the public’s mood heading into the 2012 general election. If Walker loses, it will be a shot in the arm for organized labor leaders and government unions. They have spent millions of dollars attempting to convince the public that the viability of the middle class itself depends on maintaining union wages, health benefits and pensions that, in many cases, now outpace those of private sector workers who underwrite them. If Walker wins, it will be due in large part to the fact that the public finally realizes that such arrangements are fiscally unsustainable absent yawning budget deficits, large tax hikes, substantial service cuts or some combination of all three.
Either way, sometime in May or June, Wisconsin will be back in the national spotlight. The last word goes to Walker. “We earned the trust of the majority of people in the state of Wisconsin in Nov. 2010,” he said. “It’s our chance to earn that trust again.”
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