NOAH GIMBEL: On Tuesday, January 17, volunteers from the campaign to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker submitted over a million petitions to the state government accountability board. A year ago, Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill drew major global attention to the Midwestern state. Promising to strip the collective bargaining rights from most public-sector workers, the controversial legislation inspired some of the largest labor protests that the state, and indeed the country, had seen in decades. With a Republican majority in both the state house and senate, the bill passed after protestors spent weeks in and around the Capitol. But the opposition of the people of Wisconsin did not die there. They determined to recall the governor.
Mary Bottari, Director of the Center for Media and Democracy’s Real Economy Project, has followed the recall campaign from the start.
MARY BOTTARI, CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY: Well the drive to recall Scott Walker was truly a grassroots movement. It was folks out in the cold standing by the side of the road waving petitions, setting up permanent little tables in front of coffee shops or in front of grocery stores or department stores, or driving around the state. You could see people of all ages, a lot of retirees out there, some with canes, working really hard on the recall effort. It was organized under rubric of an organization called United Wisconsin, which was grassroots folks just coming together and making this happen. And then they joined forces later in the day with the Democratic party to get those petitions filed.
GIMBEL: Despite the recall efforts, Governor Walker promises that his job-creation strategy needs more time, and that his union-busting budget cuts are an integral part of his economic policy.
BOTTARI: Well, Scott Walker’s response to all thisâ€”and he did not do a lot of interviews on the day the petitions were filed. His talking point on this has been it’s out-of-state unions: this whole thing is being rigged up by out-of-state unions, with out-of-state money and out-of-state people and out-of-state volunteers. This is a very familiar theme to Wisconsonites. Wisconsin is in its sixth month of straight job losses right now. We lost 14,000 jobs in November.
GIMBEL: The success of the recall campaign thus far suggests that Wisconsonites aren’t willing to wait patiently for Walker’s vision to unfold. But that’s not to say that the recall is a sure thing. Last August, recall elections were held in Wisconsin for six Republican state senators. As money flowed into the election from both sides, only two of those seats were lost to Democrats, leaving them one seat short of a majority.
But according to Mary Bottari, the ideological rift between the governor and the people of the state has since widened even further.
BOTTARI: Folks just think that trying to ram the bill through the legislature, you know, collecting money from outside the state, outside interests, being associated with groups like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is just not what we’re used to here in Wisconsin. And we slashed $1.6 billion out of schools here in Wisconsin at the same time that we gave $2 billion in tax breaks to our richest citizens and corporations in the state. So these are the issues that people have been dwelling on. And the last poll taken on the recall issue that was made public was in November of last year, and at that point 58 percent of people in the state supported the recall effort.
GIMBEL: And as recall petitions are counted, those numbers are proving meaningful.
BOTTARI: The numbers coming out of Wisconsin are astounding. They gathered 1 million signatures for the recall of Scott Walker, the governor, and 900,000 more signatures for the recall of lieutenant governor and four state senators. It was not an easy task to do. Wisconsin has set one of the highest recall bars in the United States of the 19 states that have recall statutes. You have to get 25 percent of the vote from the last statewide election. So these folks had to gather 540,000 signatures to trigger this recall. They doubled that: they got almost 50 percent of the votes in the last statewide election.
GIMBEL: As a recall election is now almost certain to take place as early as this summer, the people of Wisconsin will now hold primary elections to field a candidate to run against Walker. For his part, the governor will not show up for the race empty-handed.
BOTTARI: On the day the petition was filedâ€”actually, the hour the petition was filed, Scott Walker was on Wall Street. He was at a fundraiser hosted by Citibank, the world’s original too-big-to-fail bank that received $45 billion in federal bailout funds. He was there for a fundraiser. Right now, as he is under recall, he can raise unlimited sums. It’s a strange quirk in our recall law, and until election is actually triggered, he can get checks, and unlimited amounts, from people around the United States. And he’s making these fundraising forays down toâ€”for instance, he went down to Texas and he got a $250,000 check from Bob Perry, the Texas Swift Boat billionaire. He’s now on Wall Street. And that little fundraiser was hosted by Frank Greenberg of AIG, the company that took the American financial crisis and turned it into a global disaster by selling credit default swaps around the world. So that’s where Scott Walker was on the day this recall petition was filed.
GIMBEL: In a year full of elections, the recall of Scott Walker will doubtless be among the most closely watched and the most expensive.
For the Real News, I’m Noah Gimbel in Washington.
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