Tuesday afternoon, the Wisconsin capitol rotunda was filled not with protesters, but with mourners. Legislators from both sides of the aisle gathered to celebrate the life of Dick Wheeler, the hard-scrabble, pipe-smoking reporter who had covered state government since 1972. Lawmakers who’d spent the last nine months screaming at each other on national television mingled cordially, remembering Wheeler’s four decades of bipartisan kindness.
It was an eerie juxtaposition to what was going on outside the marble walls of the capitol, where union activists struck the first blow in splitting the state down the middle. A group calling itself “United Wisconsin” (apparently immune to irony) filed paperwork at 12:01 a.m. to begin recall proceedings against Gov. Scott Walker, whom they have targeted ever since he signed a bill rolling back the ability of public-sector employees to collectively bargain. The filing followed a long night of “midnight-madness” themed “pajama parties.” (Actual flyer: “Bonus points to anyone with recall themed PJs!”)
While the unionistas searched for their Recall Walker boxer shorts, Walker was busy airing his first ad of the recall season. The ad, which aired during the Green Bay Packers’ Monday-night blowout of the Minnesota Vikings, is an attempt to soften Walker’s image with women. It features Karin, an attractive school-board member, explaining how Walker’s reforms allowed them to put more resources into the classroom. The ad ends (unwisely, I would argue) with Walker appealing directly to the voters, saying “Wisconsin’s best days are yet to come.”
By “best days,” Walker likely meant “after Tuesday.” For it was on Tuesday night that representatives from the state’s major unions led a 1,000-person march on Walker’s private home in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. Before the current round of union protests, nobody had envisioned protesters would sink to harassing elected officials at their homes, yet it has become a fairly standard occurrence. Many of Walker’s neighbors even offered up space on their driveways to set up recall-signature booths.
Later, Walker would call the march on his home “out of line,” saying it disrespected his wife and teenage sons. It was only recently that Walker was the subject of death threats on Facebook, one coming from a convicted felon with over two dozen police incidents on her record.
Earlier in the morning, a group led by former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk marched the first official paper recall filing down to the state elections office. Observers on the scene noticed that Falk did nothing to discourage talk that she would be the one taking Walker on once the requisite number of signatures were collected. To date, Falk has been immune from the dangers of statewide recall, as voters have rejected her bid for statewide office twice. She ran for governor in 2002, losing in a Democratic primary to eventual governor Jim Doyle. In 2006, despite a Democratic electoral avalanche, Falk lost the race for attorney general to a virtual unknown, Republican J.B. Van Hollen.
United Wisconsin — which, as one Madison television reporter pointed out, shares a number of members with the Democratic party of Wisconsin — now has sixty days to collect 540,000 signatures to force a recall election for Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. (One recent Recall Walker rally was emceed by a liberal Madison talk-show host who has ridiculed Kleefisch’s bout with colon cancer and suggested she garnered endorsements by performing sexual acts.)
Recall papers were also filed against four more Republican state senators, three of whom hold Democratic-leaning seats. In August, Republicans won four of the six recall elections against them. Democrats now need to win only one of the next four to take control of the state senate.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.