For Wisconsin Democrats, recall of Gov. Scott Walker would be tall order

Democrats in Wisconsin and some of their union backers are vowing to launch a recall effort to try to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker. But a 2012 recall could be problematic.

By , Staff writer

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    Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker discusses results of recall elections on Wednesday, in Madison, Wis. Democrats in Wisconsin have vowed to launch a recall effort to try to unseat the controversial governor, following a bitter recall election that failed to unseat four Republican state senators.
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The bruising fight in Wisconsin over which party controls the state Senate – and provides either a smooth or rocky path for legislation favored by controversial Republican Gov. Scott Walker – is over, but perhaps not for long. The next act of this political drama may be a recall effort of the new governor himself, according to state Democratic officials and their backers.

Having failed in Tuesday's recall elections to oust enough Republican senators to win control of the state Senate, Wisconsin Democrats appear unwilling to halt their campaign. The paperwork to start a gubernatorial recall is due in November, and 540,208 signatures would be needed before Jan. 3 to qualify a recall election for the ballot.

Much is at stake, as Wisconsin Democrats see it. After the 2010 midterm election, Republicans took control of the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature, making it possible to push through Governor Walker's "budget repair bill" that curtailed the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Issues ahead include tax cuts, as well as redistricting for political seats, by which Republicans could cement their gains.

Recommended: What Wisconsin says about labor unions' clout in America

But a gubernatorial recall effort could prove to be a risky move for Democrats. It isn't clear that state Democrats could get as much financial support from unions and other supporters outside Wisconsin during a presidential election year, when there are many other Democratic causes looking for backing. Nor is it clear the Wisconsin public has the stomach for another recall battle.

Governor Walker himself suggested as much Wednesday, telling the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that the public is “tired of seemingly year-round campaigning.” “Whether it’s a gubernatorial recall, or any other recall, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of enthusiasm for having a whole ‘nother wave of ads and money come into the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

The Democratic side, though, is still breathing fire. “Governor Walker has divided the state of Wisconsin like no other state official has, and I think a recall of Scott Walker is still very real,” said Scot Ross, executive director of the One Wisconsin Now, a left-leaning advocacy organization.

Speaking to reporters late Tuesday, Mike Tate, chairman of the state Democratic Party, confirmed that Walker was his organization’s next target. “We will not stop, we will not rest … until we recall Scott Walker,” he said.

State Republican leaders suggest that targeting Walker, following a year of intensive elections that also included a state Supreme Court race in April that was likewise seen as a referendum on the governor's policies, is an abuse of the state’s political process.

“You cannot nullify elections just because you didn’t like the outcome. Recalls are for malfeasance. [The Republican state senators] did not do it. They did their jobs. They should not have been up for [a recall] in the first place,” says Rick Baas, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Milwaukee County. If Democrats do launch a recall effort of the governor, it will be “fool hardy,” he says, because it is unlikely the national Democratic Party will steer money away from the national election.

A Walker recall effort would not necessarily help Democrats much, because they would remain stymied by GOP control of both the state Senate and the Assembly, says John McAdams, a political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee. (Democrats say the pickup of two Senate seats on Tuesday gives the GOP just a 17-16 majority, which will now make it more difficult for Republicans to approve legislation without some Democratic backing.)

Another obstacle, says Mr. McAdams, is time: The longer Walker’s policies take hold in Wisconsin, the more the public has an opportunity to see any benefits that may accrue. “Simply recalling Walker doesn’t get [Democrats] anywhere close to what they want,” he says.

Moreover, a Walker recall in November 2012 could be overshadowed by the presidential election, which would shift priorities at the state level – both in manpower and campaign money. “I’m a bit skeptical that Walker is going to face a genuinely serious recall effort. There’s a lot going on in 2012,” says McAdams.

Unions are uncertain whether a Walker recall is worth the financial commitment, especially with labor under threat in surrounding states such as Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio, says a national official with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), who asked that his name not be used because he is not allowed to speak publicly.

He said the ALF-CIO's main focus in Wisconsin is defending two Democratic state senators who face recall votes on Aug. 16. After that, that national effort will turn to Ohio, where voters will have an opportunity on Nov. 8 to undo a bill passed earlier this year that erodes collective bargaining rights.

If his adversaries do launch a recall effort later this year, Walker is prepared for the fight. The governor has raised $2.5 million in the first half of 2011 – five times the amount his predecessor raised in the same period after his election, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The recall election in Wisconsin Tuesday is being cheered as a victory for both political parties in the state: Republicans say they successfully thwarted a Democratic push to take over the state Senate while Democrats say winning at least two Senate seats has slimmed the margin between both parties to 17-16, which will make it more difficult for legislation they consider unfavorable to pass moving forward.

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