By Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Gov. Scott Walker is still governor — and, presumably, will be for at least two more years.
Walker on Tuesday bested Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, for the second time — becoming the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election.
With 93 percent of the state’s 3,424 precincts reporting at 11 p.m. CDT, Walker led 54-46 percent over Barrett with about 2.2 million votes cast. Independent candidate Hari Trivedi had 1 percent of the total.
“Tonight, we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions,” Walker said in his victory speech.
“But now it is time to move on and move forward in Wisconsin,” he said.
Barrett conceded defeat around 10 p.m., two hours after polls closed.
“The voters have spoken, and I respect the voters of the state of Wisconsin and I honor their decision,” he said. “But I want everyone here to know that I have never stopped believing in the state of Wisconsin, and I never will stop believing in the state of Wisconsin.”
It was, in one sense, the expected result: In the weeks leading up to the election, polls consistently showed Walker ahead, albeit within the margin of error.
But hope, as the saying goes, floats, and Democrats said their internal polls indicated a neck-and-neck race.
The Democrats promised an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort — one that relied on the past: Barack Obama beat John McCain by 12 percent of the Wisconsin vote in 2008, but just two years later Walker beat Barrett by 6 percent in their first matchup.
Democrats hoped to convince Wisconsinites who voted in 2008 but not in 2010 to come back to the polls.
The TV networks began calling the race for Walker around 9 p.m. — triggering immense relief for some voters, devastation for others — as the news quickly spread.
The Government Accountability Board predicted voter turnout of 60 to 65 percent, or between 2.6 and 2.8 million voters. Election clerks around the state today reported higher turnout, with some projecting turnout of 80 percent or greater.
In a 6:24 p.m. email, just an hour and a half before polls closed, Barrett’s campaign asked for volunteers to make 150,000 get-out-the-vote calls. The Democratic party still had get-out-the-vote robocalls going out an hour before polls closed.
For Wisconsinites, it may seem impossible to remember a time when the word “recall” simply prompted vague recollections of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and Wisconsin was that place famous for cheeseheads and the Green Bay Packers.
Tuesday’s recalls were the culmination of at least 16 months of protests and politics stemming from Walker’s announcement on Feb. 11, 2011, of his plans to limit the ability of unionized public employees to bargain collectively. Some say the recall efforts began the day Walker was elected.
The collective bargaining proposal required most public workers to contribute more to their pension and health-care funds and limited their collective-bargaining abilities to cost-of-living salary adjustments, barring a referendum allowing voters to approve bigger raises.
The world, it seems, knows what happened next: Tens of thousands of protesters came to Madison to challenge the reforms, 14 Democratic senators fled to Illinois in order to delay a vote on the collective bargaining bill, the state Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the law, and then came recalls of nine state senators that led to two GOP senators losing their seats in summer 2011.
And, all along, Democrats and unions held out for the day when they could recall the governor himself.
That day arrived Tuesday.
Early in the day, Racine resident Traci Sorensen, a recent high school graduate, said she was standing with her former teachers in supporting Barrett.
“With the cutbacks, they just aren’t able to live on that,” she said.
Andrew Schauer, of Madison, said he was supporting Barrett because the cuts to collective bargaining rights were too much for people to take.
“I think he’s do a great job of healing our state,” he said.
Walker’s supporters see someone who has healed the state, too, by restraining the state’s ballooning budget without resorting to hiking taxes.
Debbie Adams, of Racine, said she supported Walker because balancing the budget is the governor’s most important job.
“It’s unfortunate that some of the benefits are cut for people who are unionized, but I think if you don’t have a balanced budget, it’s going to hurt us overall,” Adams said. “We all have to cut our budgets, so why shouldn’t the state start with being an example?”
Walker and the Republican Party were able to push through a conservative agenda last year because they controlled the governor’s office and had majorities in the state Assembly and state Senate.
Democrats hoped that, if they couldn’t oust Walker, they’d at least be able to halt passage of the GOP agenda by retaking control of the state Senate.
Their remaining hope at press time Tuesday night was that Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, would lose the too-close-to-call race to his predecessor, John Lehman. The Associated Press called the remaining three Senate races for the Republicans.
Becky Malke was among about 1,300 people, mostly Barrett supporters, gathered around a rather subdued Capitol Square.
Told that the race was being called for the governor, Malke wasn’t ready to give up hope.
But if he won, she said, “I’m going to continue staying strong. I think it’ll just continue, and we just have to continue fighting. We’ll just have to continue being on our toes to make sure that he doesn’t try to undermine us and he doesn’t try to continue to go against the needs of Wisconsin. I think we just need to keep fighting.”
Symbolically, Tuesday’s election was important. Legislatively, though, the effect might be minimal.
Lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to session until January, and there’s another big election between now and then.
This November, in addition to choosing a president and U.S. senator, Wisconsin voters will be voting for all 99 state Assembly seats and half the state Senate seats as well.
Walker, who critics contend has been unwilling to work with Democrats thus far, stopped the crowd at his victory celebration Tuesday night when they started to boo Barrett.
“Tomorrow is the day after election. Tomorrow we are no longer opponents. Together we can move Wisconsin forward,” Walker said.
Speaking on Wisconsin Reporter’s election coverage on election night, Arthur I. Cyr, director of A.W. Clausen Center for World Business, predicted “voter fatigue” would dampen enthusiasm for the general election in November.
So, enjoy watching television sans political ads. The respite, if it comes at all, will be brief.