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Roots of Wisconsin recall: Was website psychic?

By   /   November 3, 2011  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — It was mid-February, the day after Valentine’s Day, when thousands of angry protesters stormed Wisconsin’s state Capitol.

They were out for political blood.

“Kill this bill!” the crowd shouted, and “Recall Walker!”

It was Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed Act 10, the measure that has since become law, that curbed collective bargaining for most public employees, which stoked the fires of anti-Walker fervor. It was that bill, many of the governor’s opponents claim, when the recall movement against him was born.

“It was really (that moment) that motivated and galvanized us,” said Ron Biendseil, a member of the liberal Middleton Action Team and a volunteer in the campaign to recall Walker.

But there is some evidence to suggest the governor was a target of ousting from the day he was elected, a little over a year ago.

Walker earlier this week told Wisconsin Reporter as much, pointing to a website, or at least a website domain, calling for his recall long before the governor took the oath of office.

Recall domain?

Recallscottwalker.com is the purported creation of Ben Paulson, who describes himself as a “moderate Democrat who believes in fiscal and social responsibility.” The website is a one-stop shop for anti-Walker sentiment, featuring news and commentary about the recall effort, as well as blogs by Paulson.

“I registered this domain back in November 2010 after Scott Walker won the election,” Paulson writes in the “about" section of the website.

A search of the domain acquisition shows recallscottwalker.com was created Nov. 2, 2010, the day of the general election, when Walker and the Republicans took control of the legislative and executive branches of Wisconsin's government.

“As many of you, I have been horrified with what has been transpiring in the state since January 3, 2011 (Walker’s inauguration),” Paulson writes, predicting that “what happens in Wisconsin will be a blueprint” for the rest of the “new Republican states to follow.”

He notes the site was launched in great haste. It remained active as of Thursday.

“Let’s see where this takes us and maybe … just maybe … we can change people’s minds and get a change in the governor’s mansion before too much damage is done in Wisconsin,” Paulson states.

Wisconsin Reporter made multiple attempts to reach Paulson for an interview, sending several email requests to the website’s administrative addresses. Those requests went unanswered. A search of the website and other online links to Paulson don’t list contact information.

Recall organizers in and around Dane County said they've never heard of Paulson.

Election 'do-over'

Tom Evenson, field representative for Friends of Scott Walker, the governor's campaign fundraising arm, referred questions to the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Nicole Larson, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, on Thursday said the GOP had no comment on the matter.

Jason Mielke had plenty to say.

The chairman of the Republican Party of Rock County, like many of his fellow party members, asserts Walker was a recall target long before the opposition to Act 10 and the Republican-led fiscal reforms that employed budget cuts to balance the state biennial budget. He said there was a desire by Democrats to reverse the outcome of the election immediately following Election Day 2010.

“I believe (the Democrats) simply want a do-over of that election,” Mielke said. “I think there was shock that the winds had blown against them so hard,” the Republican said.

Marcia Riquelme, co-chairwoman of the DeForest Area Progressives and part of Wisconsinrecall.net, a Dane County-based political organization, said the recall effort grew out of disdain for an agenda that Walker opponents claim serves special business interests and contributors at the expense of working families and communities.

“It wasn’t until we understood his true policies that this idea of recall came up,” Riquelme said. “All you have to do is look at when the proverbial (expletive deleted) hit the fan, and it did when more people understood what was coming their way under legislation from Scott Walker.”

The political activist, who is a county organizer for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and United Wisconsin, the liberal political action committee leading the recall drive set to begin Nov. 15, said the initiative isn’t something members of the movement have entered into lightly.

“Doing a recall is like doing root canal,” she said. “I don’t want to be out there every day to have people sign petitions in below-zero temperatures. It’s not entertainment.”

John McAdams, a political science professor at the Marquette University in Milwaukee, disputes the notion that the recall movement began much before Walker pushed his controversial agenda.

“The impetus comes from a very small number of intense people. That’s true with anything in power,” McAdams said.

The movement to recall "would not be so intense had Walker not done anything controversial," he said. "Walker passed some extremely consequential legislation that harmed the interests of organized labor."

But the push to reverse the results of elections seems to have become part of the political culture during the past decade.

Political animosities from the disputed presidential election of 2000 lingered on, driving calls to impeach President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama faced questions about the validity of his election through the “birther” movement.

“That might be a reflection of the instant-gratification world we live in these days,” Mielke said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or Republicans or the Green Party could be in control. If people are perceiving they’re not getting the results they want, that there’s not improvement out there, they tend to want to change things.”