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Wisconsin's Recall Drama Down to Nail-Biting Finish

Wisconsin's recall is being driven by the same activists who turned out by the thousands to occupy their capitol when Walker attacked workers' right to bargain collectively.
 
 
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Wisconsin activists make get-out-the-vote calls at the Labor Temple.
Photo Credit: Jenni Dye

 
 
 
 

Wisconsin's recall is, as reporter John Nicholsput it, the kind of “renegade politics” that are disdained by the national Democratic partyand even some state Democrats. It is being driven by the same activists who turned out by the thousands to occupy their capitol when Governor Scott Walker attacked workers' right to organize and bargain collectively.

Now, a day before the biggest recall yet—of Governor Walker, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators—the fight will be won or lost where it began: on the ground.

There's a lot of big outside moneypouring into Wisconsin, mostly to pump up Walker's attempt to hang on to his seat, but the one thing that money can't buy is an excited, driven grassroots movement. If Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett beats Walker on Tuesday, it will be because of thousands of volunteers getting out the vote person by person.

“This is really a case of Walker raising $13 million against possibly the most widespread grassroots get-out-the-vote effort in the state's history,” Matt Reiter, co-president of the Teaching Assistants' Associationat the University of Wisconsin at Madison, told AlterNet.

What's At Stake

“People really see this as a referendum on Walker,” Bruce Colburn, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin, told AlterNet. “People understand that the direction he wants to take this state in is one where workers don't have rights. That's why it's been really difficult, with all the money in the world, to change people's minds and get the kind of lead you'd expect.”

Scott Walker, at this point, needs no introduction to the voters of his state. The people know whether they love him or hate him. The people who've been involved in the recall effort have felt Walker's cuts to healthcare and attacks on workers' rights personally. Shannon Duffy, a union representative with the United Media Guild who traveled to Wisconsin to volunteer with the recall effort, told AlterNet that one union member explained that Scott Walker had cost him $8,000 this year alone. It's no surprise, then, that unions remain in the forefront of the fight against Walker and his GOP cronies.

“When you want to disenfranchise people, you attack education,” said Mary Bell, the president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC). “It is about disenfranchising people, it's been about that from the beginning. If you divide and conquer a state by saying that public employees should somehow be treated differently than others, you've disenfranchised them. If you say that one group of people who likely don't have a photo ID can't vote, you've disenfranchised them. If you say to elderly people that they now have to go back and get a birth certificate to vote, you've disenfranchised them.”

Colburn noted that recent video of Walker saying that he'd like to make Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, attacking public workers first and then going after private sector unions, has become a hot issue on the campaign trail as well, and indications that Walker may himself be the target of a criminal corruption “John Doe” investigation has led some Wisconsin political watchers to speculate that even if he wins Tuesday's election, he's not long for his office.

On the other hand, Tom Barrett, who lost the governor's race back in 2010 only to return and win the Democratic primary for a rematch, wasn't much of organized labor's first choice to face Walker. SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and WEAC had endorsed Kathleen Falk in the primary; the TAA, which kicked off the capitol occupation last February, opted to endorse the recall of Walker but not endorse Barrett. “The TAA in good conscience had to say no to austerity no matter what party it's coming from,” Reiter said. “The Democratic party went on record saying the main campaign issues for them are the war on women, the John Doe investigation, and job loss, and that leaves out the labor question. What's being missed is the immediacy of repealing these reforms.”