Walker Survives Recall in Politically Weary Wisconsin

Wisconsin Governor Walker Keeps Office
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker walks past media after he filled out his ballot at Jefferson School to vote in the gubernatorial recall election June 5, 2012 in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Voters were lined up before the polls opened at 7:00 AM to decide on the recall race between the Republican Walker and Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Photographer: Tom Lynn/Getty Images

With the threat of his removal gone, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker turned his attention to a campaign promise -- creating 250,000 jobs in the remaining two and half years of his first term.

“The election’s done,” the Republican governor said in a speech at Steelwind Industries Inc., a metal fabricator in Oak Creek. “We don’t have opponents anymore. Now, it’s time to come together, to work together to move this state forward.”

Walker survived yesterday’s recall vote, defeating Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett 53 percent to 46 percent. The campaign to curtail the governor’s term after 17 months was set off by his curbs on public-employee unions, which he said were draining the state’s coffers. The debate ultimately focused on Walker’s promise to improve the economy.

In 2011, Wisconsin ranked 42nd out of 50 on the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States. It has been steadily draining jobs, according to reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, it lost 33,900, according to the agency.

Walker, 44, said today that the election will eliminate uncertainty that hindered employment. He predicted “unbelievable amounts of new jobs” in coming weeks and months.

Sole Survivor

By becoming the first U.S. governor to survive a recall, Walker burnished his reputation as a Republican standard bearer. Still, he may have lost control of state government as a result of the battles that brought him to national prominence.

One of four recall elections for his Senate supporters remained undecided; the Democratic challenger was leading by 779 votes out of 71,731 cast. A loss for the Republican incumbent would give Democrats the chamber.

Walker’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, also survived a recall, as did three of four Republican state senators facing ouster votes. Republican Senator Van Wanggaard trailed Democratic challenger John Lehman by a margin of 1 percentage point with all precincts counted, according to the AP, which didn’t declare a winner.

Campaign spending in the governor’s race through May 21 was at least $66 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group in Madison that follows election financing. That’s almost double the $37 million spent on the 2010 race, when Walker and Barrett also faced off.

Badger Gambit

The campaign broke spending records in Wisconsin. Walker alone raised more than $30 million, with about two-thirds arriving from out of state.

“Wisconsin has been turned into a pawn on a national chess board,” said Mike McCabe, the Democracy Campaign’s executive director, adding that he expects expenses in the race to total as much as $80 million.

Opponents collected more than 900,000 signatures to make Walker the third U.S. governor to face the prospect of recall. Governor Gray Davis of California lost a recall in 2003 and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota was removed in 1921.

Even before the Wisconsin votes were counted, the national parties were spinning the significance of the outcome for November’s contest between Democratic President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican.

“Tonight’s results will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin,” Romney said in a prepared statement.

Arm’s Length

Although former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Barrett, Obama didn’t visit the state. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in yesterday’s White House press briefing said, “A race where one side is outspending the other by a ratio of at least eight to one probably won’t tell us much about a future race.”

Walker’s victory will be seen as a validation of the law that weakened public-worker unions by making it “pretty much impossible” for them to operate, said William Jones, a labor historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The law limits contract bargaining to wages and makes payment of dues voluntary, he said.

The win also may embolden labor opponents nationwide to keep chipping away at unions, as Republican Governor Mitch Daniels and Indiana legislators did Feb. 1, when they exempted nonunion employees from paying dues.

“We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hard-working people,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement from his office.

Preacher’s Son

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who raised worker health-care contributions through legislation and visited Wisconsin on Walker’s behalf, congratulated him on his “impressive win.”

“I am proud to have campaigned for him,” Christie, 49, said in a statement released last night by the New Jersey Republican State Committee.

Walker, a preacher’s son and an Eagle Scout, rose to prominence a decade ago after becoming Milwaukee County executive. He quickly clashed with unions as he sought to reduce spending.

While Walker campaigned in 2010 on a platform to make government workers pay more for pensions and health care, he didn’t mention restrictions on collective bargaining. He revealed that plan in February 2011, using Republican legislative majorities to gain approval. For weeks, tens of thousands of protesters swarmed to the Capitol in Madison to shout their objections.

Achieving Celebrity

The governor was embraced this year by Republicans nationwide. Some contributed as much as $500,000 to his recall defense.

Barrett spent $2.9 million through May 21, according to McCabe’s Democracy Campaign. Backers of the Democrat spent $15.5 million, while Republican support groups spent $18 million, the organization said.

Wisconsin voters, most of whom made up their minds long ago, according to polls, turned out in record numbers. Some were eager for the fighting to end, expressing frustration with an issue that has dominated the state since last year.

“I voted for Barrett in 2010,” said Jessica DeGraff, a suburban Milwaukee mother of four. “I voted for Walker today, but it’s not because I agree with him. I voted for him because this whole recall thing is wrong and he should serve out his term.”

“Yes, what Walker has done stinks and I do not like it,” DeGraff said. “But he was elected and should be allowed to complete his term.”

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