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Recall campaign makes Wisconsin 'center of American political universe'

By   /   May 1, 2012  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Scott Walker knows it. Republicans and Democrats know it.

Political pundits and the national media know it, too.

Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall election transcends the Badger State’s borders.

In many ways, political experts argue, the election, slated for June 5, is a national referendum on ballooning state and national debt and austerity programs embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker rolled out last year.

Unions are banking on Walker’s ouster at the polls, and the political right nationwide is closely watching, if not lining up in Walker’s defense.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a conservative heavyweight, considered a GOP “rock star” by political observers, stumped for Walker on Tuesday in Wisconsin.

Christie, like Wisconsin’s embattled governor, has taken on public unions and pushed for change. But Christie isn’t facing the kind of political environment Walker is, in large part by Act 10, a Walker-led law that curbs collective bargaining for most unionized public workers.

“For the next five weeks, Wisconsin is going to be the center of the American political universe,” Christie told about 200 Walker supporters at a rally in Oak Creek on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, a Wall Street Journal op-ed called the recall election — only the third time a sitting governor has been recalled in U.S. history — “the most important non-presidential election of the decade.”

“Wisconsin’s Scott Walker is facing a recall after his labor and spending reforms. If he loses, public unions will flex their muscles nationwide,” warned the column by Stephen Moore, the economics writer for the Journal.

Walker’s campaign, and the governor himself, have used such dire predictions in raising records amount of campaign cash from all corners of the country.

“Mark my words,” he warned in a letter to Michigan conservatives, “if they (unions) barge and bully and get their way here, your state is next …so together we must fight them tooth and nail right here and right now.”

The message has resonated. Walker raised $13.16 million, from mid-January through the beginning of last week. Of that, $8.31 million, or 66 percent, came from contributors outside Wisconsin.

The governor, to date, has raised 2 1/2 times as much as the previous fundraising record for a candidate for any state office, according to the liberal leaning Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a campaign contribution tracker.

But millions of dollars have poured in from organized labor — in state and out of state — during the past year, in Wisconsin’s first round of Act 10-inspired recalls of nine state senators last summer and now with the recall elections of Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four GOP senators.

Wisconsin unions, too, have stepped up the rhetoric.

“The remedy for Walker’s abuse of power is to take that power away from him in recall election to have a full vindication. The fight continue (sic) and will continue until the rights of hardworking public service workers are restored,” said Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 40, part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

A front page story in Sunday’s New York Times noted that Wisconsin union members bill the recall election as a “critical test of labor muscle versus corporate money.”

“But it is only a warmup for a confrontation that will play out during the presidential election, which both sides view as the biggest political showdown in at least 30 years between pro- and anti-union forces – a labor-management fight writ large,” the Times piece stated.

Michael Franc, vice president for government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it is hard to overstate the importance of Wisconsin’s recall elections to the nation’s political and budgetary landscape.

“If Walker survives, he can go into the belly of the beast and confront a big source of the state’s fiscal problem, and he can address it without retreat,” Franc said, referring to the organized public workforce and the financial commitments the state has made to it over many years.

Borrowing liberally from Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” Franc said if pension and public-sector reforms can make it in Wisconsin, they can make it anywhere. As Walker noted last month in Illinois, a state buried under some $80 billion in unfunded liabilities, his success will embolden other conservative leaders to follow in his footsteps.

That’s what Walker opponents in Wisconsin and beyond seem to fear most.

A Walker loss, Franc said, would cement a place in “what is the status quo, and it sends a signal that if a governor is looking to do some kind of reform,” the actions need to be politically calibrated against the Walker experience.

Scott Furlong, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, said the winner-take-all notion is being overplayed, at home and elsewhere. He said creating a “doomsday scenario” is all about getting out the vote.

“They say, ‘If we don’t have your support the world is going to end, Wisconsin is going to fall into Lake Michigan,’” Furlong said. “In all reality, life goes on no matter who wins.

“Policy doesn’t change that quickly.”