In The News
Many threads combine in big recall news
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted May 1, 2011
The GOP clearly hoped to create some press-release mischief a few days before Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts Democratic governor, was to keynote the major Democratic Party fund-raiser in Milwaukee on April 30. The effort boomeranged because the lavish dinner and Mayday news surrounding it only confirmed the depth of feeling and enthusiasm that state Democratic Party leader Mike Tate described in a speech as “the need to rebuild and repair our state.”
Feet on the ground and votes at the polls are clearly going to mean a lot more than PR faxes – and somewhat unintentionally on a busy news weekend, more details were uncovered of just how strongly the Democrats are advancing in a Wisconsin determined to regain political equilibrium.
What put the GOP on overly hasty PR attack was that one chamber of Patrick’s Democratic legislature approved a bill setting conditions on municipal workers in bargaining for health care. It’s an idea that still must clear the other chamber and that Patrick has not fully endorsed, but he has asked for serious efforts by unions and legislators to address debilitating health costs.
Aha! Said the Republicans, here is another governor recognizing that bargaining rights for public workers must be restricted Walker style.
Ahooey! Absolutely not, said Patrick in a fiery speech April 30 at the Milwaukee Athletic Club before hundreds of enthusiastic Democrats crowded into the ballroom and clearly hard-wired on ousting GOP senators -- and even Gov. Scott Walker himself when the law permits at the start of 2012.
Aha, the GOP may still have felt like muttering the next day. It was then that news leaked out that the recall effort against their Sen. Glenn Grothman would not file signatures on deadline Monday (May 2), falling several thousand votes shy of goal in a traditional GOP stronghold.
Ahooey, and hardly unexpected, said the anti-Walker foes (now far more than Democrats) – because that day they also found out that one of the Democrats’ brightest stars in the Assembly would be taking on Alberta Darling in that crucial District 8 recall election. A formal announcement of the actual candidate was planned for later in the week
One of her fellow legislator spilled the beans Sunday before 500 listeners at the Bay View Tragedy -- Rep. Sandy Pasch would be the Democratic standard bearer against Darling, news that drowned Pasch in unexpected cheers of support. Sources also have told Labor Press that this contest may be a bit like a “two-fer” (two for the price of one in Broadway ticket terms) since physician Sheldon Wasserman, a former member of the Assembly who almost beat Darling in 2008, was also eager to run and will certainly be an active supporter if not participant in this race.
Both Pasch and Wasserman attended the Saturday Democratic dinner without revealing the news, but insiders then told Labor Press that Pasch had scored strongly in surveys of voters, and that she is a new candidate for Darling who now has to scramble to focus that costly GOP opposition research on her.
Scramble she will, of course, so Pasch can expect to be the immediate if indirect target of Darling’s uncontrolled spending. There is a wrinkle in the campaign laws that means the object of a recall campaign, in this case Darling, can raise and spend unlimited amounts until the signatures are confirmed and an election is formally scheduled.
That gives Darling most of May before her campaign contributions have to revert to a $1,000 limit per giver. Right now she has raised $400,000, much of it in thousands more than would normally be legal from individuals, and without knowing her opponent. She still can't use her opponent's name but she can steer her promotions. Darling has spent according to reports some $200,000 in mailers, robocalls and radio ads.
Math suggests she has thousands more to aim in May unless she wants to return a lot of that money to donors. So guess who will be under attack before the rules kick in to create some balance? Later in this story you can do more math involving Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett based on his speech at that dinner.
Here are more signs that recall strategies are thickening the air. That’s seen as the main reason behind Darling’s sudden resistance to Walker budget ideas she knew about and approved last January. There is something similar in the Republican Party’s attempt to demean Patrick on the eve of his speech – both are efforts to deflect anger, one by suggesting not all Republicans now agree with Walker (which makes those GOP senators like Darling look weak and evasive) while conversely suggesting other governors, even Democratic governors, agree with him.
Patrick clearly refuted the Walker approach, pointing out that other governors have budget problems but they also have better ideas that involve working with all sides.
There will be “never be a Wisconsin type law” attacking collective bargaining in his state, Patrick reiterated in a talk that detailed his personal heritage and parental feelings that make such rights essential to his individual as well as Democratic philosophy. (For clarification, the law that he does not support in its entirety would impose a month-long discussion with unions before local officials could set health insurance co-payments and deductibles. Massachusetts unions clearly dislike it but they concede it is quite a different form of economic thinking than the one-sided no-quarter blanket elimination Walker is attempting).
“I will not let Massachusetts be a pawn in the effort to undermine collective bargaining and the right to organize,” said Patrick, again and again criticizing Republicans who “destroy the ability of working people to shape their own destiny” and only support unions the GOP regards as “one of their own.” He outlined his reasons, drawing a sharp contrast with Walker along the way.
“I am the governor of all the people of the Commonwealth -- the people of my party, the other party, or no party at all, the ones that voted for me and the ones that didn’t,” said Patrick. “That is the job. They say if you cut spending and crush unions and wait, all will be well. (But these) same folks who are trying to end collective bargaining will make an exception if your union endorses them.”
Patrick even drew cheers from the crowd when he went after Democrats, saying they sometimes “get on my last nerve” by not behaving as Democrats – in other words, not standing by basic principles of putting the needs of all their citizens first. He praised Wisconsin Democrats who “stood up” – particularly the 14 Democratic senators whose flight to Illinois was a determined commitment to fight for workers. As US Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) also noted in her speech, “The 14 gave us all the time to understand what was in Walker’s bill and respond intelligently to it.”
The dinner also introduced candidates eager to take on the so-called photogenic darlings of the right – the intellectually vulnerable US Rep. Paul Ryan will be opposed by clear-speaking and well funded Kenoshan Rob Zerban, and US Rep. Sean Duffy, who has complained about not making enough money as a public official, will be challenged by a noted former state legislator, Pat Kreitlow.
Two Toms also spoke – the first the new county executive for Outgamie County, who recalled how a few months ago, as lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket, “our message of equal opportunity and truly shared sacrifice couldn’t get through.” Well, it’s getting through now because a month ago, in a county that often swings Republican, Tom Nelson won office handily-- just as Milwaukee’s election of Chris Abele as its new county exec to complete Walker’s term represented a trouncing of the Republican legislator who supported Walker and wanted to succeed him. Both victories were clearly a grassroots smackdown of Walker, as more moderate Republicans are finally noticing.
Abele also spoke briefly and with some amusement about being finally on the winning side after years of supporting this Democratic dinner. But Nelson drew the big laugh, noting how as a county leader he had carefully searched for the “tools” Walker promised to local leaders, “but all I can find in his tool box is a screwdriver.”
Still, there is quite a kick left in Republican coffers and tradition. Recall fever shouldn’t disguise the tough road ahead but it also shouldn’t disguise to the media that there clearly is a turnaround – somewhat toward the Democrats but mainly even among Republicans away from Walker and his supporters.
That’s obvious not just in the recount for the Wisconsin Supreme Court where, even if JoAnne Kloppenburg remains behind after 7,300 belated voters were found for David Prosser, the less than half a percent difference is astounding given that in March he was considered a 65-35% shoo-in.
It’s also reflected in the virtually guaranteed recall elections against the GOP, since the legal challenges are technical and no one seriously doubts more than enough filed signatures have been turned in against GOP senators Kapanke, Harsdorf, Cowles, Olsen, Hopper and Darling. At this point only three out of eight Democrats are affected, amid growing questions about the manner in which they names were gathered -- reports of hired outsiders gathering names (legal), people urged to sign petitions if they “supported Robert Wirch” and dead people who are still listed in databases being added to the list of “votes” against Wirch (highly illegal). It’s led the Democrats to call people to validate they knew what they were signing,
Democrats we spoke to are outraged mainly that the GOP is not outraged by voter fraud as they would be if they saw “dead people” signed up against Republicans in Milwaukee and Madison. But they don’t know if the violations eliminate the threshold for contests. They do say the illegalities just emphasize how desperate the GOP was to get enough signatures and how the party leaders are now going to have to buy any election “just as they bought signatures,” one lawyer told me.
Unresolved is the campaign against Democrat Julie Lassa but abandoned for gross lack of signatures are the recalls against Mark Miller, Fred Risser, Spencer Coggs and Lena Taylor. In contrast, six of eight GOP senators face recalls. While the Republicans are under pressure to find known names to run against the three threatened Dems, the Dems if anything have got established names champing at the bit. Rep. Jennifer Shilling is taking on Kapanke, Oshkosh deputy mayor Jessica King is renewing her squeaky close campaign against Randy Hopper, Rep. Fred Clark, a popular down-home type from Baraboo, has announced against Luther Olsen and, as indicated, Pasch is the reported choice against Darling with Wasserman apparently eager to help.
That April 30 dinner also brought full-throated cheers at every mention of recalling Walker, an effort that can’t begin to gather names until November or start signing petitions until Jan. 3.
The other Tom, Barrett, who lost to Walker, was certainly aware of every pledge his opponent made during that fall campaign and debates. He reminded the crowd that when Walker “dropped the bomb” – in curtailing union bargaining rights, decimating education, transit, recycling and more in his budget while trying to expand vouchers to all income levels countywide – these were things “he never mentioned during the campaign, and I sure was listening.”
A clearly fired-up Barrett than told the crowd that “progressive ideas” were not going away, they were actually coming back in force and so was he, and that the electorate had reason to feel robbed.
In a telling remark, he said to expect him back in the saddle “in nine months.” Now, Barrett is a careful guy with math and more, so a little counting is in order. Nine months could signal he is running again for mayor of Milwaukee, since you need several months in leading up to such an election. On the other hand, nine months is January 2012 when a Walker recall would go into full swing. Do your own math.