Monthly Archives: December 2011

Believe in / Reclaim Wisconsin again and again and again

One of the slogans of the campaign to recall Scott Walker is “Reclaim Wisconsin.” This follows close on the heels of the Walker campaign’s 2010 slogan “Believe in Wisconsin Again.” It is typical of politics that each side claims to speak for “The People” and for truth and righteousness and progress. Even conservatives claim to offer more and better progress than progressives, who in turn claim to conserve the best of the past.

The truth is, between forty and forty-nine percent of the electorate generally voted for the losing candidate in any election. That is not a majority, which is why the losing candidate lost. But it is a lot of people, a very significant part of “We The People.” Seldom is any election a mandate to go whole hog on whatever the winner’s little heart desires. One reason Scott Walker is likely to face a recall election — which he may well lose — is that he forgot this simple fact.

Walker won fifty-two percent of the vote, in one of the lowest voter turnouts in many election cycles. Fifty-two percent is a majority, and it entitled him to take office. It meant that the center of gravity of “We The People” was leaning a bit his way. If he had been thinking clearly, instead of whooping for joy like a little boy in a candy store, he would have started his term differently.

He would have said “Gee, forty-eight percent of the people didn’t want what I offered, and a record number were so uninspired they didn’t vote for me any more than they voted for Tom Barrett.” He would have sat down with the leadership of the surviving Democrats in the legislature, and said, look, I won, and this is my plan, but to make this work for everyone, I’m going to need your help. Let’s talk about what the bottom line is for me, what the bottom line is for you, how we can cut each other some slack, and make the next four years work for all the people of Wisconsin.

But he didn’t. That is one reason he is facing a strong demand for recall. In addition, he has alienated a significant number of the voters who elected him. People who voted for Scott Walker are out circulating recall petitions. When you won with fifty-two percent, all it takes is three percent changing their mind about you, and your numbers are down to forty-nine percent. A shift of five percent brings you down to forty-seven percent. A new governor doing a half-way decent job generally moves things the other way, with five or ten percent of those who voted for the loser saying, Yah, well, this guy’s not doing such a bad job.”

News coverage suggests that Walker’s own polls show fifty-seven percent favoring recall. That is exactly what a recall election is for: when one year in office horrifies many of the people who voted for the incumbent. But not ALL the people who voted for Scott Walker favor a recall. There are those who like and admire him, who approve of most or all that he had accomplished.

When the dust settles, if Walker is recalled, it is a sure bet that AT LEAST forty percent of “We The People” of Wisconsin will have voted to keep Governor Walker in office. It is likely to be closer to forty-five percent, maybe even forty-nine percent. The Democratic Party will then have to face the fact that not much short of half the voters still supported Scott Walker. Voters who are NOT Democrats, but supported the recall, will also have to adjust their expectations of what happens next.

It won’t be carte blanche to do whatever the new governor wants. Even if control of one or both houses of the legislature flip, by recall elections in 2012, or in the regular November elections, the new governor must BE what Scott Walker rhetorically claimed to be: the governor of all the people of Wisconsin. No law, no program, no platform, ever gets the support of 100 percent of the people. Individuals are too individual for that. But the things worth doing, the things that need doing, should each be laws, programs, policies, budget items, that a good sixty-to eighty percent of the people can live with.

If Walker had thought about that, he wouldn’t be facing a recall right now. If the next governor thinks about it, use of the recall will remain rare, a last resort. Otherwise, we are going to have constant battles between caucuses and parties that want what they want and want it now, but are unwilling to accommodate what forty percent of the people care about. It will be non-stop battles, and no time to actually get anything done.

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Millions for television spots, but not one cent is persuasive

There are elections where money talks – whoever can blanket the airwaves with their carefully crafted propaganda can create an atmosphere, set the agenda, and turn voters, like a herd of sheep, to vote for the preferred candidate of the man with the deep pockets.

The campaign to recall Scott Walker is not one of those elections. Just about everyone made up their mind in February 2011. Those who are going to vote to keep Scott Walker genuinely appreciate what he has done in the past year. Those who are going to vote to replace him, are genuinely horrified by his performance in office. Voters are not going to be motivated by impressions, or atmosphere. Scott Walker’s tenure as governor is going to rise or fall on his record in office.

Money talks when voters are unfamiliar with the candidates. A man with little or no record can spin his own image, if he can pay to get it in front of every couch potato in the state. Scott Walker did that in 2010. Outside of Milwaukee, where he was overwhelmingly disliked, few voters knew much about him, and he didn’t tell them much. He told them what they wanted to hear, and 52 percent of the voters thought it sounded good. He was the fresh youngish face, offered in a year where everyone was feeling politically depressed. He wasn’t called upon to supply any details.

Money talks in Supreme Court elections, because most voters pay little or no attention to what judges are doing on a day to day basis. Creating a “feeling” about the judge, whether it has anything to do with their performance on the bench or not, can win or lose the battle.What Louis Butler did as a public defender had nothing to do with how he would rule as an appellate judge – but Gableman was able to create an atmosphere that “Louis Butler defends child molesters,” and slither into the Supreme Court. It didn’t take a law degree to recognize that the Gableman commercials were blatantly deceptive, but it would have taken some time to sit down and study unfamiliar facts, to see through the barrage of sound bytes. Most voters don’t take that time.

For the past year, everyone in Wisconsin who is even a possible voter has been riveted on what Walker has done, and what his opponents have done. There is no reason to be concerned about how much money the Koch brothers, or Karl Rove, or the United States Chamber of Commerce, are going to pour into the Wisconsin airwaves. Nobody is paying attention. Nobody is going to be moved. Nobody is uninformed. The drama, a real life, high stakes drama, has been playing out before our eyes for over a year now.

The money being spent by advocates of the recall is probably wasted also. Are people unaware that there is a recall campaign going on? Hardly. Are large numbers of voters genuinely conflicted about whether to recall our governor and lieutenant governor? Very few. People who have made up their mind are immune to massive television messages. Of course, if there were NO recall commercials at all, some voters might get the impression the recall campaign was over and “everyone but me seems to like Walker.” If its all over the TV, it must be true, right?

If one side does it, the other side feels they HAVE to do the same. Up to a point, that may be true. But it doesn’t matter how much money is available to either side. This one is going to be decided by the people. There are no sheep this time around. Everyone is awake, and thinking for themselves. No voters are looking for a slick campaign to issue them an opinion.

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But who will bell the cat… or run in the recall… ???

The question NOBODY is talking about may be the most critical: It seems obvious there will be enough signatures to require Scott Walker to defend his title in a recall election, but who will be running against him? If the Democratic Party offers a real dud, all the work and hopes that have been poured into collecting over 545,000 signatures could be a complete waste.

California has a better recall system: Once a recall election is scheduled, voters get two questions: (1) Should the incumbent be recalled? (2) If a majority vote to recall, who should succeed the incumbent? In 2003, a majority of voters chose to recall Gov. Gray Davis. Then everybody, both those for and against recall, got to vote on his successor — all on the same day. As we all know, Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected.

Under current Wisconsin law, the only recall election will be Scott Walker and Rebecca Kleefish vs. ________ and __________. Filling in the blank is a critical step. Republican Scott Brown took a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts in 2009 because Democrats picked a candidate who didn’t feel like campaigning, and didn’t think she needed to. The wrong Democrat could hand the whole deal back to Scott Walker.

Running Tom Barrett would be a real disaster. Barrett’s candidacy in 2010 was a major reason Scott Walker got into the governor’s chair in the first place. The Democratic leadership wanted someone with “name recognition.” Yes, Barrett was well known — as an old politician. Walker, although himself a ruthless politician of some years experience, was able to come on as the fresh young face. Barrett didn’t really want the job anyway, and it showed throughout the campaign. Barrett was ready to serve out another term or two as mayor of Milwaukee and then gracefully retire.

Hopefully the Democratic leadership of the 2009-2010 legislature, who all lost their seats in November 2010, are sufficiently chastened not to offer themselves. They are also a good part of the reason Republicans swept the 2010 statewide elections. Spineless cretins holding their fingers in the air to see which way the wind is blowing did not impress voters. They wouldn’t make a good contrast to all the reasons voters want Scott Walker out either.

Tom Nelson, who ran alongside Barrett for lieutenant governor, offers the youthful challenge many voters thought they were getting in Scott Walker, but he has settled into the job of Outagamie County Executive.

Kathleen Falk would offer the values and priorities that voters seem to be seeking as they sign recall petitions. She may still be wounded from the battle in 2006 for attorney general, when incumbent Gov. James Doyle distanced himself from her campaign, and she narrowly lost. Of course, being shunned by Doyle and Walker could make a candidate look really good this year. Neither is popular. She would need a better campaign staff than whoever designed her pathetically ineffective TV commercials in 2006. But she would make a really good governor, and offer recall voters a clear contrast to Scott Walker.

Maybe there will be a Democratic primary before the recall elections. In the 2011 legislative recall elections, several Republicans submitted papers for Democratic primaries just to drag out the time. But if there is no clear candidate with the confidence of most voters, ready to oppose Walker in a recall, a primary might be a good thing. At least, it would improve chances of getting a candidate on the ballot who has the confidence of voters.

That’s what primaries are for. Recalling Scott Walker is too important to leave the choice of a challenger up to a few party insiders.

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Why recall? Because Scott Walker lied, much more than average

In general, it is not good citizenship to launch a recall campaign only one year after a candidate has been elected to office. There will almost always be twenty-five percent of the voters who supported an opposing candidate. That could be enough to circulate petitions and run a recall election. But it probably won’t change the outcome. If fifty-three percent of the electorate voted for a woman or man a year ago, chances are, fifty-two or fifty-four percent will do so again. Therefore, a recall is often a waste of time and money.

The reasons to recall Scott Walker begin with the many signs that appeared in the massive protests around the state capitol in Madison last February, reading “I voted for Walker, and I’m sorry,” or “I voted for Walker, and he spit on me.” In a close election – and most statewide elections in Wisconsin are close – if five percent of voters decide, OOPS, I voted for the wrong person, that could easily be enough to shift the results.

Scott Walker did NOT run for office promising “Vote for me, and I will cancel public employee collective bargaining, slash transit budgets, give away billions of dollars in tax breaks to large businesses, take away local communities right to vote on local government authorities, and centralize unprecedented power in the hands of the executive.”

He campaigned on two themes: I take my lunch to work in a brown paper bag, and we have to create 250,000 new jobs. He didn’t say how he was going to create them. Perhaps he had them hidden away in his brown paper bag. He railed about the outgoing governor, Jim Doyle – always a popular theme, but irrelevant, since Doyle wasn’t running for re-election.

Many people out circulating recall petitions are people who did, in fact, vote for Walker in November 2010. That is the surest sign that a recall election is a proper thing to ask for. The fact that people who did NOT vote for him would like him out doesn’t count for much. They lost. But the fact that people who DID vote for him feel betrayed by his performance in office, is solid grounds for a recall.

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