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Republicans say they are ready as union activists shift focus

By   /   June 30, 2011  /   9 Comments

By Kate Elizabeth Queram Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Public employee unions and their supporters in Wisconsin are taking a new tack in their battle against Gov. Scott Walker and the State Senate, but Republicans say they are ripe for the war.

Instead of massive and loud protests around Capitol Square in downtown Madison, activists are spreading out into the state’s towns and villages to put boots on the ground in the recall fight against six Republican state senators. Three Democrats in the Senate also face recalls.

Republican Senators targeted by the activists say they have seen the ground troops — and are ready.

The strategy is to focus on canvassing and phone-banking efforts on their core contingency of voters.

“We’re really trying to target and hone in on our base to get them to vote,” said Jeff Weigand, campaign manager for state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon. “It’s going to be a lower turnout, so you have to do a good job of targeting who your voters are, and that’s what we’re concentrating our efforts to.”

Other campaign managers agreed, but said the increased union presence in their districts isn’t necessarily unanimously pro-Democrat. Craig Summerfield, campaign manager for state Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, counts a Green Bay school employee who is a member of the Wisconsin Education Association union among volunteers working to keep Cowles in office.

The woman, whom Summerfield declined to identify because she is a volunteer, works for the campaign because she objects to paying union dues, he said.

“Union leaders have clearly reached out and tried to mobilize their members, but it just so happens that their members don’t always agree with them,” Summerfield said.

Bob Allen, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, Wisconsin labor union, said his membership won’t stop simply because the focus has shifted from protesting Walker’s union reform measure to recall election.

“The governor seems to think people will just settle and roll over and take it, and that’s not going to happen,” Allen said.

That’s because unseating the Republicans is the new brass ring for the unions, experts say.

“At the last big rally around the Capitol … there were folks there with signs that said, ‘Let’s take our energy from protests to recalls,’ ” said Barry Burden, a political science professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. “They were really trying to get people out of Madison and into the field to work on recalls. Maybe some of that was just a realization that it’s hard to keep up that level of (protest) for months … you have to move from one thing to another to keep people interested. But also I feel like it was a realistic strategy … in the end, you want to change who’s in office.”

Nine senators face recall elections this summer because of the fallout over the collective bargaining measure. Republican senators are being recalled for their support of Walker’s reform package. Democrats are being targeted for fleeing the state for four weeks this winter to stop a vote on the budget repair bill.

“I actually think people have shifted their focus,” said Sandy Thistle, an instructor at Madison Area Technical College and member of Carpenters Local 314, who attended the winter and summer rallies. She is not a public employee. “I think (protesters are) not there because you can only do so much, and you want to do the thing that’s going to have the largest impact … The recall, for lots of people I know, that’s (got) their attention.”

Thistle, who is not a public employee, does not have a recall candidate in her district but said she plans to volunteer elsewhere if needed.

Public employees agreed. Jeff Voss, of Mayville, retired three years earlier than planned from his Department of Corrections job because of his concern that the reform law would rob him of his pension. Voss attended the winter protests and this month’s rallies, but said many of his friends and co-workers are focusing on recall efforts after realizing the bill would become the law of America’s Dairyland.

“The initial push in regard to the budget was to try to get legislators and senators to come to some reason and listen,” said Voss, who worked as a correctional officer at Waupun Correctional Institution and is a member of AFSCME, Local 18. Voss earned $45,863, including $687 in overtime in 2010, according to public salary data.

“I think everybody just waited to see what the outcome was, and now that the outcome is there, most of the influence moved (to recalls) … That’s where the effort should be now and that’s where it is now,” Voss said.

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  • richard averbeck

    Seems like the “conservative” taxpayer/worker is becoming sensitive to the fact the we will have to keep motivated and voting in many elections over the next few years to help others understand there is change coming to this State.

  • Dick Dastardly

    The political game is permanently changed now. Conservatives have finally learned that they have to get involved and stay involved in politics. Until 2010, most conservatives have kept their heads down and worked at their jobs. They are still working hard at their jobs, but now they are visible, active and involved in the politics of ALL the levels of Government. Finally conservatives are going to the polls. Conservatives out number liberals, but they have never before been as involved and energized. It is the job of each one of us fellow Conservatives to keep the heat and pressure on. We have won. We continue to win. We have seen what our nation, states and local governments can become when we just work at our jobs and allow others (liberals) to run government. We can see what has happened in countries like Greece and Spain and we don’t want it here.

  • Roger Roy

    Yes, the good, honest, hard-working, God-fearing people of this state will have to work day and night, year ’round, to try to stop the spread of the leftist cancer that threatens to kill us. I just hope it’s not already too late.

  • Tpartywarrior

    The only state senators deserving of recall are the 14 liberal Democrat cowards who fled the state for 3 weeks, exposing that they were taking their orders from union leaders. Unionistas, liberals, Socialists and Communists call the 14 heroes. I ask, since when did cutting and running become heroic in America?

  • Jim

    I think the democrats misunderstood the meaning of the phrase, “When the going gets tough the tough get going.”

    For the first time in a very long time the democrats aren’t the majority, and don’t hold the governors seat. They have been stealing from hard-working taxpayers for years to pad their wallets and pay for people who just bless their hearts don’t feel like working.

    Conservatives need to stay strong during the recall elections, we have won major victories but need to keep on our toes!

  • LiLa

    Since Abraham Lincoln did a “jump and run” to prevent a vote while a member of the Illinois legislature.

  • http://wisconsinreporter mark

    If Mr. Voss retired 3 years early to avoid losing his pension, (never was going to happen) he deserves smaller benefits.

  • thomas comstock

    As GDP increases in the US, the middle class both private and government workers has lost ground (after inflation) while the top income tier has made huge gains.

    I started in corrections in 1993 making $8.50/hr with free health insurance. Since then inflation has doubled so to keep pace the starting wage should be $17.00/hr but it’s not, instead it’s only $14.oo/hr. And instead of free health insurance like I had, that same employee statring in August will pay out nearly $400/month plus an increase in the retirement.

    With the Tea Party Republicans in power, they plan to lower taxes on the rich, on the only people who have increased their wealth. Therefore correctional officers, police officers, teachers, anyone in government will see wages and benefits continue to fall. We have had a 3% cut for two years and now another 5% on top of that after having 0% for the previous 2 years so the trend is clear but where it ends is below the poverty line if the trend continues. I see no end to the trend with ideas of lower taxes on the rich that started 30-40 years ago and accelerated again 9 years ago with the Bush tax cuts and now the Tea Party gaining power.

    Money is getting more concentrated in the hands of a very few which does not bode well for a middle class whether you work in the public OR the private sector. The trickle down theory has been tried and failed. Money trickles up in the real world not down. There is a better way and we must change course or we will end up right where we are heading.

  • George

    Yeah, the Republicans are ready alright. Like they were with Rep. Nygren.

    Way to go, GOP. You let the easiest recall, the lowest-hanging fruit, just slip through your fingers. If that’s how the recalls are going to go, we’re in for a Democrat legislature like you’ve never seen before.

    I have to agree with Charlie Sykes – Felony stupid!