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Wisconsin Recall Watched as Possible Prophesy for November

April 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
After just 16 months in office, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker faces a June recall -- an effort born of protests last year as he pushed through a law limiting collective-bargaining rights for most public employees. Ray Suarez and Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin Public Television discuss the race and possible national implications.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Next, to politics and the recall election in Wisconsin.

Ray Suarez has that.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER, R-Wisc.: To the best of my ability.

WOMAN: So help me God.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: So help me God.

RAY SUAREZ: Like many Republicans in 2010, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was swept into office on a wave of Tea Party support. But after just 16 months on the job, he faces a recall election this June.

The effort was born of protests last year, as Walker pushed through a new law limiting collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Ultimately, opponents of the law collected a million signatures to put the governor’s recall on the ballot.

The two leading Democratic challengers are Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010, and Kathleen Falk, a former county executive. Falk has received more than $4 million from labor unions, which played a key role in organizing protests and collecting the recall petitions. Falk played up her union support in a television ad received last week.

NARRATOR: When the recall movement took shape, one was there from the start. One has been endorsed by Wisconsin’s workers.

RAY SUAREZ: Barrett, meanwhile, has targeted Walker’s leadership and handling of the economy.

TOM BARRETT, Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate: Scott Walker has divided our state. And while he’s pursued his ideological agenda, last year Wisconsin lost more jobs than any state in the country.

RAY SUAREZ: The Democratic primary is next week, but Walker isn’t waiting. He went on the air last week with a TV ad knocking Barrett over Milwaukee’s unemployment and tax rates.

For more on what’s at stake and the national implications of the recall, we’re joined from Madison by Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin Public Television.

And, Frederica, people of both the Republican and Democratic persuasions watched from the rest of the country as Wisconsin went through its to and fro. Is it still attracting that kind of interest from the rest of the country?

FREDERICA FREYBERG, Wisconsin Public Television: Well, I think it is.

You see the discussions with various Democratic candidates and even Gov. Scott Walker. The national networks, MSNBC and FOX News, they are on there regularly. So I really believe it is.

And, also, an astonishing amount of money is pouring in here to Wisconsin, particularly I think for Gov. Scott Walker. Much of that is from out of state, we’re told, upwards of 61 percent. We just got kind of a news alert today that Gov. Walker had raised $25 million since November, since the petitions were put out for the recall.

And this is quite a staggering number. He had a quirk in the recall election law that allowed him to raise unlimited funds between November and March 30. And now the rest of the reporting until today is in. And it’s $25 million. So I think that speaks to a lot of interest, to be sure.

RAY SUAREZ: Labor unions were instrumental in organizing the recall, and they have ponied up a lot of money for Kathleen Falk. What’s at stake for them?

FREDERICA FREYBERG: That’s right.

Well, labor unions are kind of the endorsers of Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County executive here in Madison, because she came out of the chutes right away and said that she would veto any state budget that didn’t restore collective bargaining. So she got kind of the big-name union endorsers.

And, to date, they have spent about $4 million on Kathleen Falk, and again we’re still awaiting these latest numbers in campaign financing. But what’s at stake for the unions is this idea and former law of collective bargaining here in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin is the birthplace of collective bargaining, passed by Gov. Nelson back in 1959. And so there’s a lot of historical resonance over this collective bargaining bill in Wisconsin. And so if they have a candidate that promises to restore it — of course, all of the Democratic candidates are making that same promise, just not in the same way.

RAY SUAREZ: You have talked about the support pouring in for Gov. Walker from Republicans outside Wisconsin. What about inside the state? Has he managed to consolidate his administration, find his footing, raise his approval rating?

FREDERICA FREYBERG: We are told by Charles Franklin, a well-known pollster at Marquette University, that in terms of Gov. Scott Walker’s favorability rating, it’s really just about even with the now front-runner, who is Mayor Tom Barrett.

And so Charles Franklin says that this state, above all, is evenly split. Now, has Gov. Walker found his footing? I would say absolutely. He came out strong. He imposed these new changes, these new laws, and at least half of this state very much approves.

RAY SUAREZ: Speaking of Mayor Barrett, there’s a family fight on the Democratic side. The primary is a week from tomorrow, which sets off a basically 30-day sprint until the finals.

Will the Democrats consolidate around who ever wins next Tuesday’s primary?

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Well, I think the thought is that they will.

But there is kind of this family feud amongst the candidates right now. And the fear there, of course, is that if you pit one candidate against another, it doesn’t do much for the eventual front-runner running against the incumbent.

On the other hand, at least one of the unions, the state’s largest teachers union, who was first out of the chutes to endorse Kathleen Falk, has said that they will endorse and back whoever emerges out of this primary.

RAY SUAREZ: At the same time, there are a bunch of state senate recalls, a lieutenant governor recall. This is unprecedented for Wisconsin, isn’t it?

FREDERICA FREYBERG: It is.

We did have some senate recalls last summer. And now we have more. Yes, there is campaigning going on across this state. Republicans say — are calling it a do-over. Democrats are saying they simply have to take back these seats. Right now, actually as a result of one of the Republican state senators resigning, we have an even split in the state senate.

And so there is some possibility that if any of the Democrats pick up any of the Republican senate seats, that majority could go to the Democrats.

RAY SUAREZ: Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin Public Television, thanks for joining us.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: You’re welcome.