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Recall aftermath: Now what?

By   /   August 10, 2011  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — With the dust and debris settling on Tuesday’s historic recall elections, two big questions emerge from the rubble: 

Who won?

What now?

The answers depend on who you ask.

When all is said and done, no matter the spin or the moral victories declared, the Republicans won this recall scrum.

The numbers don’t lie.

Six GOP senators were targeted for recall. Four survived.

Two did not.

Republicans traded their easy majority for a razor-thin, 17-16 edge in the state Senate, but they hold the advantage and they still hold court.

The GOP can extend that margin Tuesday with the final round of recalls, this time targeting Senate Democrats, but the party can’t lose its edge.

There is nothing fuzzy about that math for Republican leaders, who see Tuesday’s voter verdict as validation of the kind of initiatives and policies that stoked the recall flames to begin with.

Senate Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, who has labeled the recalls as a referendum on the direction of the state, said, if anything, the results argue for business as usual in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

“I don’t see a significant shift from the way we’re doing things now,” the Juneau Republican told Wisconsin Reporter.

Gov. Scott Walker in an interview with the MacIver Institute on Wednesday said he had great confidence in the voters to get the facts straight and cut through all of the campaign rhetoric and attack ads.

“I think that as voters looked at the facts, they saw a budget that is balanced, and we did it without raising taxes, we essentially froze property taxes for the next couple of years and we’ve done it in a way that empowers local governments and schools district to fare better,” Walker said in the video interview.

Roots of recall

Walker’s budget, backed by his party and detested by Democrats, turns a $3 billion-plus biennial deficit into a potential surplus through deep cuts, including $800 million from education, while keeping property tax increases to a recent historical low of about 2 percent, according to a review by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a research nonprofit.

The governor’s budget repair measures also changed the rules of organized labor, eliminating most collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Thousands of people took to the streets in late winter, backed by powerful unions, protesting Walker’s reforms.

And 14 Democratic senators, two of whom face recall for charges of dereliction of duty, fled the state to avoid an eventual budget vote, approved on partisan lines.

As winter turned to spring, voters turned out in droves in an expensive and politically charged state Supreme Court race that ended in controversy and a narrow conservative majority on the court, which backed the controversial changes amid more protest.

The recalls followed, filled with fake candidates, fear-mongering and a reported $30 million-plus dumped into the races by outside interests — mostly from big labor and big business.

While Democrats whittled down the GOP’s edge in the Senate, Walker sees the Republican’s hold as a message from voters, a mandate to keep on keepin’ on.

“When you come back to the facts, results matter,” the governor said in the MacIver interview, “and I think people want us to continue to produce results. As long as we do and as long as we’re straight forward with people, I think we’ll be successful.”

‘Strong step forward’

Democrats have a different take away from super recall Tuesday.

Mary Bell, a Wisconsin Rapids teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council said the recall election represents a “movement to elect leaders who represent Wisconsin values.”

“Flipping two Senate districts clearly indicates progress has been made — and that’s a credit to voters for helping Wisconsin take a strong step forward in the battle to uphold the middle class,” Bell said in a statement.

In a campaign letter obtained by Wisconsin Reporter, Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, sounds a tone of celebration in the Democrats’ two recall victories, defeating two “deeply entrenched GOP incumbents.”

That might be a bit of an overstatement. The 32nd Senate District race was seen early on as a prime target for Democrats, in a district that traditionally swings more Democratic. And the 18th Senate District was a rematch of two candidates separated by 163 votes in 2008.

“Last night’s victory may not have been absolute, but we’ve proven that when Democratic legislators stand up and fight back against the radical GOP agenda, the American people will stand up and fight alongside them too,” Sargeant wrote.

The letter, saluting the 14 Democrats who skipped town to avoid the vote as heroes who stood up for working families, asks for a $10 contribution or more to help “seize the momentum.”

“Republicans are already hopelessly spinning last night’s results, but they cannot hide what they’ve lost,” Sargeant wrote.

‘Groundhog Day moment’

Barry Burden, University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, said both sides can fairly claim partial victory, but Republicans clearly came out on top.

“Republicans can say that, No. 1, they held the majority overall, and that’s got to be a bit of a disappointment for the Democrats,” who were better organized and more galvanized then the GOP, Burden said.

It’s the latest in big losses for liberals in Wisconsin.

The April election to jettison conservative state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser narrowly missed the mark, and now the arguably hollow victory in the Senate recalls. 

“It’s like Groundhog Day moment,” Burden said. “They spent a lot of energy, a lot of anger, a lot of time and money and human hours, and it fell a little shy to where they want it to be.”

That’s not to say the effort was wasted, Burden said.

Democrats tightened up that Senate majority, and if they can hold off Republican challengers in Tuesday’s recalls, and insiders say there’s a good chance of that, the GOP may have to be a little more amenable to compromise, when the new-look Senate is seated in the coming month.

And then there’s the big prize for many Democrats — recalling Walker. Will the Democrats’ failure to take control of the Senate tamper their enthusiasm?
Probably not much, pundits and party officials said Wednesday.
The recall drive would require more than 500,000 signatures from Wisconsin voters, and petitions cannot be circulated until November. They cannot be filed until Jan. 3 — the anniversary of Walker’s inauguration.
The governor sees a call for cooperation in the voters’ verdict at the polls Tuesday. 

“Certainly they want us to works together … and that’s clearly the course we’re set out on,” the governor said.

Alissa Smith of Wisconsin Reporter contributed to this story.