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For Wisconsin Gov. Walker, Tables Turn as Unions Push Recall Effort

November 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The eyes of the nation were on the political firestorm in Wisconsin last winter when Republican Gov. Scott Walker took on the labor union representing the state's public employees. Wisconsin Public Television's Frederica Freyburg explores how the tables have since turned on Walker.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The eyes of the nation were on the political firestorm in Wisconsin late last winter, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker took on the labor union representing the state’s public employees.

Fast-forward to today, and the tables have turned, as we hear from Frederica Freyberg of Wisconsin public television in this report.

VIRGINIA LINK, state worker: I feel like I’m in Vegas. We’re here all week.

FREDERICA FREYBERG, Wisconsin Public Television: Virginia Link took vacation from her state job to set up shop along a city street…

VIRGINIA LINK: You know, you can download petitions online.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: … gathering signatures to recall the governor and lieutenant governor.

VIRGINIA LINK: I have a 13-year-old car, and Walker’s telling me I’m a have? I’m not a have.

WOMAN: Walker has lied to the people of Wisconsin, and he is destroying our state.

WOMAN: We want to take on a petition to recall Gov. Walker.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Fort Atkinson voter Julie Wells hand-delivered the official recall filing to the state elections board.

WOMAN: We’re going to do this. We’re taking back our state.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: And so launched the statewide push to gather more than 540,000 signatures, 700,000 for safety.

The recall drive is a joint effort that includes a group called United Wisconsin and the state Democratic Party.

MIKE TATE, Wisconsin Democratic Party: From the beginning, we have built this signature-gathering effort working with our friends at United Wisconsin to be a truly statewide effort. I know factually yesterday that there were signatures being collected in all 72 counties of this state.

LYNN FREEMAN, United Wisconsin: In Appleton, in Green Bay, in Wausau, there’s hundreds of people showing up just to sign.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: For their part, Republican Party officials say Gov. Walker’s leadership will prevail.

BRIAN SCHIMMING, Wisconsin Republican Party: He’s not afraid of this battle at all, not at all.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: But veteran campaign operatives claim the so-called ground game being worked for this recall effort is as good as President Obama’s 2008 campaign operations, only more energized. Party-paid professionals man recall offices across the state. It’s a ground game that takes lots of money.

MIKE TATE: We’re going to do the best we can. We know we will be outspent, but I think we will have enough money to win.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: You will have big union money, won’t you?

MIKE TATE: I think that obviously organized labor has a big stake in this fight.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Some estimates suggest a recall election of the governor and lieutenant governor could cost $80 million to $100 million in campaign spending.

The state Republican Party says — quote — “We will have what we need.”

BRIAN SCHIMMING: We will spend enough to make sure the governor’s message is out there and that people understand what this is really about. And for him, he’s — this is truly a time when good policy is good politics.

MAN: We have a good neighborhood around here. We have got Democrats and we have got more Democrats.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Apart from the big money pouring in, on the recall-Walker side, there is an army of volunteers hitting the streets for signatures.

MAN: And do the same thing for the yellow form. That’s for Kleefisch.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: This drive-through recall post is staffed by revolving shifts of 77 retired teachers angry over education cuts.

MAN: Basically, what people do is, they see the sign that there is a drive-through ahead, just like McDonald’s drive-through ahead.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: But even in Democratic strongholds like Madison and Milwaukee, there are staunch Scott Walker supporters.

MAN: It’s a fraud. It’s a scam.


MAN: Because the voters — the voters chose Walker.

MAN: My issue is that I think the — I think Scott Walker should be applauded for what he has done.

BRIAN SCHIMMING: From our perspective, the governor is welcoming the opportunity to go out there and talk to the voters.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: Gov. Walker started talking the voters with new TV spots this week, saying his budget-balancing policies are working.

MAN: I think we are doing the very best thing that Wisconsin has seen in probably a generation.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: … Wisconsin’s working families!

FREDERICA FREYBERG: The fervor on both sides is just heating up. At a recall-the-recall event featuring Republican budget-writer Robin Vos, an interloper disrupted the message.

Both sides can claim unsportsmanlike behavior, or worse.

MIKE TATE: We’re seeing a lot of dirty tricks being played by the Republicans. We have filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board. Actually, we have filed multiple complaints. There were some people, Republicans making threats online that we referred to them. We take this very seriously. And I believe the Government Accountability Board does as well.

BRIAN SCHIMMING: If I had every opportunity, every minute to file every bogus complaint that the state Democratic Party or their — their allies, their groups are going to try to throw at the governor or throw at the state party or whatever, I wouldn’t have any time to do anything else. They’re desperate.

FREDERICA FREYBERG: But a new St. Norbert College/WPR poll shows a majority, 58 percent of respondents, including a growing number of Republicans, favor Scott Walker’s recall.

Petitioners have 60 days to gather the required signatures to trigger an election, an historic political exercise that, like the events earlier this year, will have all eyes on Wisconsin.