By Jeremy Merkel
Lynn Frazier, North Dakota, 1921
Gray Davis, California, 2003
This is the list of governors in US history who have been removed from office through a recall election. Today we could see an addition to this list, when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker faces off against Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett.
Walker drew national headlines for his decision to end collective bargaining rights for a majority of the state’s public employees. Opposition from labor unions and Democratic leaders resulted in weeklong protests outside the state capital building. Petitions circulated by United Wisconsin, the Democratic Super PAC that led the recall effort, received over one million signatures.
INFLUENCE OF OUTSIDE MONEY
Public opinion about Walker is certainly polarized. However, it is clear that cash donations from out-of-state players have fueled the campaign on both sides. Spending has also been lopsided. The nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported that over $60 million has been spent on the race. Half of that came from Walker. Democrats on the other hand spent $4 million. An additional $21.5 million was spent by outside groups that reported their spending. The unreported contributions could add many more millions to the counter. Walker’s top three donors combined gave more than Barrett’s campaign had raised overall. Four of Walker’s top seven donors are out-of-state billionaires, including Amway founder and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who each contributed $250,000.
Money aside, referendums on public servants are nothing new in Wisconsin, with Scott Fitzgerald, Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader and Walker’s closest ally, also facing recall. Lori Compas, a 41-year-old mother of two became so enraged with Fitzgerald’s attempt to steamroll a pro-Walker Budget Bill through the Senate without a quorum she filed for a recall herself. After creating a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account, Compas spoke at a rally in front of the capital building attended by 60,000 people, and countless town hall meetings after that. Oh, the power of social media….
AN UNPRECEDENTED REFERENDUM
The political climate unfolding in the Badger State is unprecedented. Historians could cite only three times in American history where more than one state legislator has been recalled at the same time over the same issue. Yet what they fail to examine is what is causing Wisconsin to head down this political roller coaster. Before placing the blame on Walker and the Republican resurgence that began when he took office in 2010 during the Tea Party surge, look back to 2002, when seven Democratic supervisors in Milwaukee county were recalled in a pension scandal that was said to propel Walker to the executive office.
I think that the outside money and the overall strength of the Tea Party movement are key factors in what is happening today in Wisconsin, we can’t ignore the impact social media. In the Occupy-era where it is easier than ever to circulate and disseminate information about our elected officials via Facebook, Twitter, and VOTIFI, Wisconsin has proved to be a leader in the digital revolution. Three of the five most populous cities in the state provide their constituents with Internet based access of all public records directly from databases maintained by local governments. Madison, the state capital, has been named the number one digital city in America by the Center for Digital Government.
DIGITAL WISCONSIN IS HARD TO POLL
Being a digital city and a relatively more digital state is great for many reasons. One of those, however, is not polling. Adoption of mobile phones has made it increasingly difficult to obtain accurate poll results. According to some recent data wireless only households in Wisconsin represented 25.3 percent of the population. That’s a jump of 8.9 percent over the numbers collected during the entirety of 2008. On the national scale, it is the sixth fastest state when it comes to households converting to wireless only, and outpaced the national average for conversion to wireless by 2.2 percent. At the same rate, we estimate cell phone only households to be around 32 percent, while cell phone mostly households to be much higher than that. Polling into some of these communities is quite difficult, which is why we see some divergent poll numbers.
THE POLLS SAY
On that note, many poll results have Walker and Barrett neck and neck, and in some polls the incumbent has a slight lead and in some polls last week Walker was way ahead. Public Policy Polling’s final poll (PDF) finds Walker ahead by 3 points, 50-47. That’s down from 50-45 on a PPP poll conducted three weeks ago and it’s also down from a 52-45 lead that Walker posted in a Marquette Law poll released last week. Among independents, Barrett leads 48-46.
With such a narrow race between Democrats and Republicans in a state that is know to lean blue, it could be a forecast of what is to come in this year’s presidential election. One thing that will matter a great deal is what the campaign in Wisconsin will portend for the general election. The Wisconsin recall saga has been a protracted WrestleMania pitting the heavy spending SuperPAC GOP money machine versus the lean ground-game of the Democrats, supplied in part by the Obama For America grassroots infrastructure. Who wins this battle and how well they win will certain affect the campaign strategies for Obama and Romney in 2012.
Wisconsin has voted Democrat in each election since 1988, but recent polls are showing a shrinking margin between Obama and Romney. Either way, if Wisconsinites come out to the ballots in similar numbers as they did in 2008 (Wisconsin had the second highest voter turnout rate, behind Minnesota), we can be promised to see a presidential election that comes down to the wire.