What's Behind the Recall in Wisconsin: Workers Fighting Back As Walker Dodges Questions About Corruption
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Prior to the prank phone call, many Wisconsinites had never heard of the Koch brothers, despite Koch Industries being one of Walker’s top donors in 2010, and David Koch having given $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association (which in turn spent almost $5 million on the race in Wisconsin). But the Koch connection became apparent after recordings of the call went public, and Koch references soon started appearing on handwritten signs at Wisconsin rallies.
The protests reached 100,000 the next Saturday and the capitol occupation continued. The following week, the Walker administration tried to shut down the capitol and defied a court order to re-open it; Walker then introduced a biennial budget bill with massive cuts to K-12 education and the state Medicaid program, as well as eliminating in-state tuition for undocumented university students and a registry for home healthcare providers.
The week after that, in a barely announced meeting, Republican senators rapidly stripped Act 10 of “fiscal” provisions but kept the collective bargaining limits, which allowed them to pass the bill without a quorum (and without the 14 Democratic senators). The Assembly passed the stripped-down bill days later and Walker signed it into law. But Wisconsinites were undeterred. That Saturday, around 150,000 people marched on the capitol in protest and to welcome home the 14 Democratic senators who had fled the state.
The state constitution provides that an elected official may be recalled one year after taking office – which meant that fired-up Wisconsinites had to wait until at least November to start collecting signatures. But Wisconsinites remained motivated and engaged during those intervening months as almost everything in the state became hyper-politicized.
The campaign for state Supreme Court, originally expected to be a sleepy affair with incumbent Justice David Prosser almost guaranteed to win, turned into a referendum on Governor Walker, with millions of out-of-state dollars poured into the state and record turnout on election day. Kloppenburg was originally announced the winner with 200 votes until Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a Republican activist in the state’s most conservative county, announced she had failed to account for 14,000 votes, giving Justice Prosser a 7,500-vote lead that was upheld in the recount.
As the Supreme Court race heated up, the Dane County district attorney filed suit alleging that Walker’s collective bargaining bill was passed in violation of the state’s open meetings law, which requires that public notice of meetings be posted 24 hours in advance. Dane County judge Maryann Sumi temporarily blocked implementation of the bill in March (which the Wisconsin GOP tried to ignore ), and made her order permanent in May. The prolonged court battle compelled a wide array of Wisconsinites to scrutinize the process of how bills are passed, rather than just the content, and made residents acutely aware of previously obscure provisions in their state constitution.
Sumi’s decision was overturned in a contentious ruling by a divided Wisconsin Supreme Court. The behind-the-scenes debate between the justices about whether to take the case and how to rule became so heated that at one point, Justice Prosser placed his hands around the neck of fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley. The ensuing controversy again thrust Prosser into the spotlight, giving Wisconsin residents another controversy connected to Walker’s union-busting.
Summer saw recall elections for eight legislators who had been in office for over one year and were eligible for recall; the elections narrowed Republican control of the Senate to just one vote, making moderate Republican Senator Dale Schultz (who voted against the collective bargaining bill) a pivotal player. In coming months, Schultz’s opposition would essentially kill a deregulatory environmental bill crafted exclusively for an out-of-state mining company. Walker and GOP leadership had prioritized the bill and Schultz managed to hand them a rare defeat.