By Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — There was really all but one story in Wisconsin politics last week. An exclamation point, really, to a bitter saga that took more than 15 months to write.
Wisconsin made history in an unprecedented recall election. Now, as voters, parties and the media that followed their every move recover, the story of what’s next is just beginning to be written.
Walker wins – big
Gov. Scott Walker still is governor — and, presumably, will be for at least two more years.
A record number of voters turned out to end the months-long recall campaign, with Walker scoring a 7 percentage point victory, 53 percent to 46 percent over Barrett. 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 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 percent to 65 percent, or between 2.6 and 2.8 million voters.
Despite reports of long voting lines across the state throughout the day, turnout settled at about 58 percent, more than 2.4 million voters. The numbers didn’t top turnout numbers of nearly 3 million voters in the 2008 presidential election, but it shattered long-standing gubernatorial election turnout.
Tuesday’s election was 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.
They launched that campaign in November, turning in more than 900,000 signatures on a recall petition in mid-January. The Government Accountability Board certified the petitions following a long review process, setting the stage for a primary battle in May that pitted Barrett against three other Democrats.
The recall campaign bet — that Wisconsin voters would toss out Walker less than mid-term — ended in a bust Tuesday night.
Second in command supported
Caught in the shadows of the national spotlight on the Walker-Barrett matchup was Wisconsin’s unprecedented lieutenant governor’s recall election.
But despite the relatively quiet race, incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, like the governor, scored a big victory Tuesday night.
She relished the win.
“Now this is what democracy looks like,” Kleefisch said to supporters as poll results confirmed what Republicans predicted all along — a victory.
Kleefisch drummed Democratic challenger Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin union, as part of a GOP sweep of five of the six recall elections Tuesday.
Nancy Milholland, who helped organize a Racine Tea Party rally for Walker, Kleefisch and state Sen. Van Wanggaard last Saturday, said Kleefisch has been a strong political partner for the governor.
The Democrats' only apparent win came in the hotly contested Senate District 21, where Wanggaard, a Racine Republican, appears to have lost by some 780 votes to Democratic challenger John Lehman, also of Racine.
Still, days after the election, there was conceding from the Wanggaard camp.
“We know that there are a number of outstanding absentee ballots, voting irregularities, and that there were problems across the county in the unofficial tally of ballots. People across the state and country have asked that I immediately ask for a recount,” the Racine Republican said in a statement.
After the tally Tuesday night, Wanggaard fell 779 votes short of his opponent, according to the count.
Racine County Clerk Wendy Christensen said official results will be available Tuesday when all vote totals are double-checked and certified.
If Lehman's victory holds, Democrats will take control of the state Senate with a 17-16 margin.
Elsewhere, three other Republican lawmakers easily won Senate seats up for recall, including state Sen. Terry Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, and state Rep. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, who was running for the seat vacated by recalled Republican Sen. Pam Galloway, of Wausau.
How does Wisconsin heal?
Now that the contentious recall campaign has been settled, politicians and voters alike are asking how the bruised Badger State can mend the body politic.
Both Barrett and Walker struck tones of conciliation Tuesday night, but within minutes of the governor’s win bitterness, hostility and hatred poured forth.
The Twittersphere, where anonymity often feeds courage, and frequently stupidity, was filled with nasty messages — and more than a few serious threats that law enforcement officials are taking very seriously.
The state Attorney General’s Office, the FBI and other law enforcers have opened up an investigation into some serious threats.
For his concession speech, a little too early for many Dems’ liking, Barrett was slapped on the face. Literally.
“The woman was upset about Barrett giving his concession speech while there were still votes to be tallied, according to Milwaukee’s 12 News. Facing the woman, who reportedly asked Barrett if she could slap him, he said “I’d rather you hug me.” As he leaned down for the hug, the woman slapped him across the face,” The Hill reported.
Barrett said he would not press charges.
It was clear all around, even as the governor met with his cabinet and talked about moving forward from a recall that a majority of Wisconsin voters rejected, even as leadership on both sides spoke of mending fences, that the heavy lifting of fixing the rift will be easier said than done.
“I don’t know if it’s the election (that) caused injury as much as Governor Walker’s policies,” said Jane Witt, chairwoman of the Racine County Democratic Party, still smarting Wednesday from the statewide defeat. “If he and the Republican Assembly continue on the course they’ve held since January 2011, healing is simply not in the vocabulary.