Wisconsin Gubernatorial Recall – Was it All For Nothing?

By YeOldeScribe ~ August 1st, 2012 @ 12:55 am

As some of you who follow PoliticalProgressives know, our writer works for an educational camp during road construction season (or for those who live out of state: summer). While he enjoys the students very much during the eight weeks he works with them, they’ll be returning home very soon, and so after our summer recess, PolitcalProgressives returns.

(Hey, if our state congressmen and women can have the summer and fall off, we feel that giving our writer two months off during the summer so he can teach children the importance of good communication and going to college is probably fair.)

One our writer’s students asked him the other day who the governor of the state was. Taken aback, our writer replied, “Scott Walker, of course.” The student in question was very intelligent, and our writer was surprised that she would have to ask such a question. “Well,” she reasoned, “didn’t we just have an election to vote him out of office?” Somewhat relieved that a high school student was that interested in politics, our writer informed the girl that yes, a recall election was held, but that Gov. Walker was able to retain his position and remain governor of Wisconsin. The student then asked the question that has been on the minds of almost every Wisconsinite:

“So that recall was all for nothing?”

It’s a fair question to ask. While an exact dollar amount will never be known, some people are claiming that the recall cost the state over $125 million dollars. Some people are touting that nothing has changed; that Walker won and that’s all that matters. Many believe that Walker’s victory is a sign from Wisconsinites that he’s on the right track; that the election was a mandate. We’re going to take a look at each of these three things and break them down to the best of our ability.

First, let’s take a look at how much the recall cost. And let’s be clear right off the bat: we will never know for sure. The best anyone can do is to estimate. This is for a number of reasons, although most notably because special interest groups (otherwise known as PAC’s or Super PAC’s) don’t have to release figures on how much they spend on advertising, and they can spend unlimited amounts of money backing a candidate, idea, or cause. The best any pundit or interested citizen can do is to estimate and guess. But beyond that, it’s hard to even know what candidates themselves spent. Although they are required to release such numbers and TV stations are required to keep that information in their public file, it takes someone who knows what they’re looking for (and who has the time to tabulate, cross check and analyze the data) to figure all that out.

That being said, the recall did not cost the state $125 million. At best guess, it was 1/10th of that. See, there’s a difference between what it cost the candidates/PAC’s and what it cost the state. While upwards of $125 million may have been spent on the state (Walker outspent Barrett 2.5-1, in case you were wondering), the cost of the recall for the state is in the $10-18 million dollar range (according to the New York Times and the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, along with various other sources). This means that each taxpayer spent between $1.75-$3 per person. Not too bad when you look at it like that.

Next, let’s evaluate what was accomplished via the recall. It’s obviously true that the Democrats didn’t get everything they wanted – indeed, they missed out on their main goal of removing Scott Walker from office. But let’s not forget that Gov. Walker was not the only person being recalled this summer. Also on the ballot were four state senate seats, and Democratic candidate John Lehman of Racine was able to defeat his recall opponent, Republican Incumbent Van Wanggard. While going one for four is worse statistically than the two for six effort Democrats gave in the last round of recalls, this one is much more significant. With this election, control of the senate shifted from 17-16 in favor of Republicans to 17-16 in favor of Democrats. That is a huge blow to any of Gov. Walker’s post-recall plans (and is probably one of the most significant reasons why congress is on recess all summer and all fall instead of doing the work they were elected to do).

But even though the effort to recall Walker was unsuccessful, is it really fair to say nothing was accomplished? The very fact that the recalls even took place should say something. Only three governors in the history of our nation have ever been recalled due to how hard it is to gather the required number of signatures. Let’s not forget that over 1,000,000 signatures were collected to remove Gov. Walker from office – almost twice the number needed. Also, even though it turned out to hurt Democrats, it’s important to note that voter turnout was as high for the recall elections as it is for some presidential elections. Regardless of the outcome, it is a good thing for the state that so many people were interested in and passionate about politics. It’s undeniable that the main goal of the recall was not accomplished. But that doesn’t mean that the recall effort (or the money spent on it) was entirely wasted.

Finally, let’s look at the statement that voters gave Scott Walker a mandate to keep doing what he’s doing. Walker echoed this idea in his victory speech, saying, “Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders that stand up and make the tough decisions.” Other people (most of them from out of state) took things even further, some going as far as saying Mitt Romney has already won the state for the presidential elections later this fall. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said, “Wisconsin has given their stamp of approval to Gov. Walker’s successful reforms that balanced the budget, put people back to work and put government back on the side of the people.”

Look, this simply isn’t the case. Priebus is wrong; Walker’s actions have done little to balance the budget, have taken away jobs, and destroyed any notion of the idea that government is on the side of the common man. We’ve covered that ad nauseum. But the more troubling fact is that Priebus and other Republicans actually believe that Walker now has a mandate to do whatever the hell he wants for the next three years because he can’t be recalled. We don’t see it that way at all. If anything, the recall should be a warning sign to Walker and his Republican cronies that such behavior is not tolerated and will be met with resistance. AFL-CIO’s President Richard Trumka said it best on recall night:

“Tonight working families across the country recognize the courageous journey that nurses, teachers, firefighters, snowplow drivers and other Wisconsinites led for more than a year. Though a seemingly impossible task, they refused to allow their voices be taken away by an overreaching and partisan governor. Whether it was standing in the snow, sleeping in the Capitol, knocking on doors or simply casting a vote, we admire the heart and soul everyone poured into this effort. Adding to this gargantuan challenge of recalling only the third governor in American history was the flood of secret corporate cash distorting our democracy – a dangerous example of a post-Citizens United America.

We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people. Their resolve has inspired a nation to follow their lead and stand up for the values of hard work, unity, and decency that we believe in. We hope Scott Walker heard Wisconsin: Nobody wants divisive policies. It’s time to work together to forge a new path forward. The challenge to solve a generation of economic policies and create an economy that celebrates hard work over a partisan agenda gained momentum today.”

And to argue that this spells trouble for Obama? Think again. First, Obama won’t get outspent 3-1 in the national election (if he gets outspent at all). Whether or not you believe it, money wins elections – and that’s got Obama worried rather than happy this time around. But that doesn’t mean the Romney campaign is sitting on $2 billion compared to Obama’s rumored $1 billion war chest. It means that the fight should be even – a benefit the unions and Barrett never came close to having.  Second, a Walker win doesn’t equal a Romney win. Polling was done on recall election voters, and Walker (somehow) was able to win the support of 18 percent of Obama supporters. Considering that Barrett was only able to pull 6 percent of Romney supporters and Barrett lost by 5 percent… Romney’s already losing Wisconsin by 7 percent. That’s actually bad news bears for Romney, not Obama. Finally, Obama (for reasons we don’t agree with at all) decided not to campaign in Wisconsin for Barrett, or even talk about the recall election. Worse, the National Democratic Party didn’t invest a dime in this race, while the RNC invested money, people, resources, and sound bites. Obama will have every weapon at his disposal this fall, while Wisconsin Dems could only wield the weapons they were able to manufacture themselves in the recall.

In the end, we’ll choose to disagree with many pundits out there and say that the election was not all for naught; that even if no Democrat won (which wasn’t the case) the election would have meant something. And what does the student who asked the question think? We don’t know. Our writer shared his side of the story and let the young lady make up her own mind. Isn’t that what being a member of a liberal democracy is all about?

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1 Response to Wisconsin Gubernatorial Recall – Was it All For Nothing?

  1. Michael Stearney

    Money does, indeed, win elections, but not for the reasons it used or should. What the obscene amount of money in the post-Citizens United election campaigns now buys is largely the opportunity to convey mis-information: distortations of opponent’s viewpoints and positions, inaccuracies of fact, either by virtue of intentional omission of relevant detail or simply outright falsehoods, quotes taken out of context, etc. It is virtually impossible to counter all of it. Add to that the press and the national media’s abrogation of their traditional role to call out the lies with deep and objective research, andyou have a formula for disaster.


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