In November 2010, the Democratic Party took a shellacking in congressional and gubernatorial elections nationwide. In Wisconsin, the Governor's office was taken by Republican Scott Walker, who promised to abolish state budget deficits and stimulate the economy by cutting both taxes and public spending.
Once in office, Walker adhered to this campaign promise and introduced a Budget Repair Bill in February 2011. However, this measure not only aimed to cut state spending; it also required state employees to contribute more to their health and retirement funds. Furthermore, the bill eliminated collective bargaining rights for most union employees, other than wage increases capped by other means, and tried to restrict the unions by limiting their ability to collect dues from members.
Wisconsin erupted in protest, with large crowds besieging the State Capitol building in Madison. Governor Walker's union-busting legislation also agitated interest groups across the US, who saw the fight as publicity for the intrinsic differences between conservative Republicanism and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Wisconsin's Democratic Senators attempted to stop passage of the Budget Repair Bill by leaving the state, preventing the necessary quorum needed to enact the law. Their resistance ultimately failed from implementation of most of the proposed reforms, but it inspired, along with the crowds that thronged Madison, an attempt to remove Walker from office through a recall election.
After a lengthy wait to meet the strict requirement of valid signatures to initiate the election, the contest is nearly here. On 5 June, Walker faces once again his 2010 Democratic opponent, Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee.
If Walker wins, Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney will point to the electoral success of an executive politician who committed himself to unpopular decisions to help stop runaway spending and deficits. If Walker loses, Democrats will promote the theme that cutting spending, while cutting the taxes of the wealthy, has been tried and proved a loser.
In recent days the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, and other Tea Party groups, have been sending fund-raising emails stressing the critical nature of defending Gov. Walker's record in office. They have also made the link to the race for the White House:
But here's something else that excites us - the newest polls show that Barack Obama's support has plunged in Wisconsin, and Mitt Romney is now tied with Obama in Wisconsin. We are not only going to DEFEAT the RECALL, we are going to win Wisconsin's 10 Electoral Votes in November!
We now have only have 18 days left to DEFEAT the RECALL.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, unions, and the liberal nournal The Nation have sent out national fundraising emails of their own supporting Tom Barrett:
If Scott Walker and his allies are recalled from office in Wisconsin on June 5, the results will be seen across the country as a rejection of the idea that cutting taxes for the rich while attacking unions and slashing services will somehow spur job growth.
However, a quick look at the media in Wisconsin reveals that more mundane matters are influencing the recall chalenge. Comments in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel regularly mock "flabbergastic" nature of the Democratic Barrett. These parody Barrett's remarks on 12 May about a video showing Walker in discussion of a "divide and conquer" strategy toards the unions: “I was flabbergasted. I was flabbergasted at his language.”
Then there was Mayor Barrett's absence last week at two important events hosted by Milwaukee law enforcement officers, one of which honoured the sacrifice of those killed in the line of duty:
Newsradio 620 WTMJ's John Mercure caught up with the Mayor Thursday and asked where he had been during the events. The Mayor and his staff couldn't remember where they were at the time. "I was working. I was… I'll have to get back to you about the specifics," the mayor told John.
It turned out that Barrett was appearing at another event. Critical media pounced: “On Wisconsin's Afternoon News today, you'll hear what the Mayor was saying to union leaders in Oshkosh as his police department was remembering officers who were killed in the line of duty.”
Walker currently enjoys a slender lead in the polls, and there are other reasons to avoid predictions. The volatility of local politics undermines any conclusion about the significance for national politics. While the result on 5 June will give one of the parties and Presidential candidates a boost come November --- except within Wisconsin --- this "critical" election will be a distant memory./p>
A postscript for something you may not know. Wisconsin is well-known for its connection to beer, being the spiritual home of the Miller, Pabst and Schlitz brands, but there is more in the way of alcohol:
Wisconsin's long-standing love affair with brandy, as embodied in the ubiquitous brandy old-fashioned cocktail. According to "Flavor of Wisconsin," during the 1960s Wisconsinites drank nearly half of all the brandy consumed in the U.S.; today state residents still drink three times more than the average American.
Relevant to the race for the White House? Probably not --- just like the recall of Scott Walker.A completely irrelevant fact, as is the fact that Milwaukee is a creative centre in the recent nationwide boom in new cocktails, but ultimately as relevant to the re-election of President Obama as the recall of Governor Walker.