Posts Tagged With: We The People

Signs of recall sentiment in Germantown

Proudly displayed by a homeowner on a bucolic residental street in Germantown, Wisconsin.

A large banner supporting the imminent recall of Scott Walker from the post of Governor of Wisconsin deserves some mention, when it appears in Germantown, the south-east corner of Ozaukee County, north of Menominee Falls and just diagonal from the northwest corner of Milwaukee County.

The largest bloc of Republican votes in recent elections came from counties that surround Milwaukee like a siege ring. Without them, the reliable Republican vote spread thinly through the rest of the state would be a feeble challenge.

Of course this is the United States of America, so there is no constituency where any candidate or party can count on 90 percent, or 99 percent, and seldom even 70 or 80 percent. In a presidential election, 60 percent is called a “landslide,” even though it means 40 percent of the voters wanted another candidate; even 55 percent is considered a strong showing.

Scott Walker was elected governor with 52 percent of the votes in 2010, that is, 52 percent of 49 percent of eligible voters. In Ozaukee and Washington counties, 66 and 60 percent of eligible voters turned out, among the top three counties in the state, giving Walker 68.9 and 75.2 percent of the votes cast.

If Walker’s support in these bastions of loyal support drops by five percent or so, without his support drastically improving somewhere else in the state, his effort to retain office is in serious trouble. A recall election is not about the losers getting a second bite at the apple. If recall petitions were mostly or only signed by people who voted for a different candidate in the general election, a recall would simply result in roughly the same result. A recall is about people who did vote for the incumbent, expressing shock and revulsion over his (or her) performance in office. It may also, secondarily, be about people who weren’t inspired to vote for anyone. This last group, if motivated by the incumbent’s performance to get out of their comfy couches and go vote in the recall, could swing the result as well.

Democratic Party fundraising appeals are highlighting Scott Walker’s highly successful out of state fundraising. The names of Texas millionaire Bob Perry, and of course the Koch brothers, are a natural foil. Reportedly, these villains from central casting have pledged that they are “going all in to save Scott Walker.” No doubt they are, and they have the money to pour into it.

But this time around, they really don’t matter. When voters don’t know the candidates well, millions of dollars buying a non-stop stream of TV spots can swing an election. You can fool all of the people some of the time. A lie repeated often enough will be believed, at least for a while, just as Joseph Goebbels said. But the recall is not about doubt, confusion, and uncertainty. Most voters in Wisconsin made up their minds in February 2011. Everyone in Wisconsin has seen Scott Walker on display, and either approves or does not. No amount of television advertising is going to sway opinion this time around. It’s just a show, with both sides preaching to the choir.

Walker still has support – nobody should make a mistake about that. He’s not going to be turned out of office by a 90 percent majority, or even 70 percent. He is likely to win 45 percent of the votes, quite possibly even 47 or 48 percent. But that falls short of a majority. There are “I Stand With Walker” signs in various parts of Germantown, Waukesha, and along the lonely stretch of Highway 20 west of East Troy. But there are “Recall Walker” signs in Waukesha, in Germantown, in Whitewater, Watertown, and Fort Atkinson.

A governor who does a decent job usually gets an approval rating above the percentage of people who actually voted for him. Walker’s approval rating plunged sharply below his 52 percent majority in his first couple of months in office. If his support slips even five percent in the recall, he’ll be looking for a new job. This one will be decided by the well-informed citizens of Wisconsin, not by out-of-state money.

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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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