#577 – Dick Bernard: Election 2012 #22. The Wisconsin Recall Election. Some Musings Driving U.S. Highway 61

As it happened, Tuesday morning June 5 came an unexpected phone call from one of my relatives in Wisconsin. Marion, 95, called to say that her nephew, Dave, had died on Sunday at age 77 “and the funeral is tomorrow at 10:30 in Hazel Green”.
They had misplaced my phone number and don’t do computer, thus the late notice. They didn’t expect anyone to come, but these were people well known to me, and I decided I wanted to go. (Dave was life-long and well known and respected in this area of Wisconsin. There were perhaps 200 at the funeral, and 700 signed the book at the wake the previous evening.)
So, on Wednesday, June 6, the day after the Recall election, I embarked down U.S. Highway 61 from my St. Paul suburb to within a mile of Illinois, across from Dubuque, Iowa, perhaps 100 miles west of Madison.
I was gone from 5 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., including from 8 a.m. to 5:30 in Wisconsin, driving alone, no radio, no television, no newspaper, no computer and no other data source.
Not a word was mentioned about the Wisconsin election that had climaxed the day before.
At home, I gathered only that there was no recall of Governor Walker, that one Wisconsin Senator had been recalled, and that Senatorial election has reshaped the balance of power in the Wisconsin State Senate – a very big deal, if true.
First and foremost: I’m not here to second-guess tactics in this election. I worked an entire career with people organizations and have seen the best made plans fail; and the worst, succeed. You might be able to make a perfect ball-bearing, but when people are involved, all bets are off, for all the reasons any human being knows.
As I write this, after noon on Thursday, June 7, I have not, on purpose, read anything, even comments from friends, about the recent Wisconsin election.
I have done this in hopes to keep focus on my own few observations.
As I drove the stunningly beautiful 500 mile round-trip on major highway U.S. 61 yesterday, about half in Minnesota, half in Wisconsin, I decided to notice what I could about the ‘residue’ of the election along the way (mostly signs), and to think about the implications of the just-completed election, and not only for Wisconsin. (For the record, I do not recall a single person saying a single thing about the election. Nothing. And I saw a lot of people at the funeral.)
Here are some thoughts, and a few photos:
1. SIGNS: I was clearly in Walker country in southwest Wisconsin. But there were very few signs, and I didn’t see a single Billboard. (My trip was only a few hours into the first day after the election. Some signs may have already been taken down, but I doubt many had been moved.)
The Walker signs were (in my mind) pretty brilliant in their very simple message (see photos, click to enlarge).

Hazel Green WI June 6, 2012

I didn’t see any large Barrett signs. The roadside ones were small and simple. But there were one or two pretty nicely done hand-made signs like the below two-sided sign. One Walker supporter had a nicely done hand-made sign as well.

Street side in Viroqua WI June 7, 2012

Two-sided sign north of Boscobel WI June 6, 2012

The other side....

I am not a fan of campaign signs, largely because they grow like weeds prior to the election, and overwhelm each other and underwhelm the potential viewer, at least in my view. In this single issue election (with some Senate recalls in some areas of WI), I do think the signs served a very useful purpose, especially the hand-made ones.
I also noticed three themes (at least as I translate them:
A) the Walker signs said, I’d contend, “we elected him, he should have his chance”. (I’m pretty sure there were a lot of Walker voters June 5 who probably thought he and the Republicans over-reached when they took control. But they weren’t willing to politically execute him in favor of someone unknown. I don’t think the negative anti-Milwaukee ads had that much impact on most voters.)
B) The Recall signs were a much harder “sell”: “we want him unelected” without a convincing reason that the alternative would be any better is not an easy argument to accept. Recall is a weapon to be very sparingly used. On the other hand, Walker was elected because lots and lots of Democrats in Wisconsin stayed home and didn’t even bother to vote in 2010. Voter turnout matters a great deal. Turnout, turnout, turnout.
C) Elect Barrett signs weren’t (and probably couldn’t be) very convincing, even though I’m sure Barrett was a good candidate. There had to be a candidate, and he was the one chosen, at the last minute. He was the anti-Walker candidate, not the pro-Wisconsin one.
2. WINNERS AND LOSERS. I can’t see any big “winners” in the exercise just past, but I do think there are “losers”, including Scott Walker, Big Money and the Republican Party.
Wisconsin was big moneys first really major experiment, and while it will claim victory in Walker’s remaining in office, Walker’s power has been eroded, as has his reputation with the general population (my opinion). And he has even less power in moving his agenda in the state. The next two years will be long ones for him.
Those who organized the Recall effort have a huge opportunity if they don’t allow themselves to become dis-spirited. It will be hard to find a resident of Wisconsin who doesn’t have at least an idea about what the issues are. This is a time for community dialogue, and the winner will be those who facilitate these dialogues without set agendas. Communities need to talk this through as communities, not just strategy sessions of ‘power’ people.
In my mind, BIG MONEY LOST in this election. Given the huge disparity in financial resources available, and given #1, it should have been a walk in the park for Walker. Plus, the providers of the Big Money are now public figures in their own right, where they would prefer to hide in the shadows. Hard to believe, also, they, too, have limited resources to spend on such things like state-by-state campaigns. They are not invincible.
3. THINKING BACK IN MINNESOTA HISTORY. On the return trip I found myself thinking back to another last minute election I witnessed here in Minnesota. It was the U.S. Senate election in 2002, when in the wake of the Wellstone’s tragic death, Walter Mondale agreed to stand for election in Paul’s stead.
One can hardly imagine a candidate more qualified than Mondale: former Minnesota Senator, Vice-President of the United States, candidate for President, Ambassador to Japan. And still very much alive today, 10 years later. One can hardly imagine a better stand-in, and a more compelling reason to vote for a candidate in the wake of a tragedy. But when all the votes were counted that November day, his opponent won.
And that is history.
See also previous post, here.
For other related posts, simply put Election 2012 in search box.
UPDATE June 7 5 p.m.:
Dick: I am less and less inclined to look at macro and short-term analyses, and more and more inclined to look at the longer-term and micro (personal) aspects of this and any election, for that matter. It was actually good to drive through that rural country and try to imagine how people in those rural houses and little towns went about making decisions on things like who to vote for on Tuesday, or whether to vote at all. Then there was that large crowd at the church in Hazel Green for the funeral. How do they decide? A lot of it, I’d guess, comes down to feelings and relationships, with a very large dollop of sloppiness and disinterest mixed in. The conversations, including on this network, are very, very important, more so than some grand game-plan, or what someone shoulda done. But, that’s just my opinion, as everyone has a right to have! (I also did a post on Election Day, which I haven’t linked, but which is pertinent to this conversation, I feel. It’s here.)

2 replies
  1. Bruce Fisher
    Bruce Fisher says:

    I’ve always like SW WI. I think the drive from Dubuque, IA through Red Wing, MN is the most senic drive in the upper midwest.
    I just drove that stretch when my wife and I drove back from St. Louis last March. Its really beautiful. If you haven’t seen the confluence of the WI River and the Mississippi at Praire Duchein, WI, its worth the drive down and back just by itself.
    Last March when we drove through SW WI. we did see a lot of recall Walker signs. Especially the long drive through LaCrosse on 61. I was actually surprised at the number we saw in that part of WI.
    The recall was stacked heavily for the incumbent. However, the recall did change the complexion of the Senate, which is a victory for progressives and a defeat for Walker.
    The Democrats in have spent a lot of political capital are just plane out of energy and money. Walker is sitting in a good place even though I think the biggest issue for a lot of voters was the recall itself. They may not think much of Walker, but they just don’t want a recall every year if the out party thinks its can oust the incumbent.
    Walker is riding high right now in Republican circles, and may get the VP nod from Mitt. That would be similar to McCain picking Palin. A move that appears like a good one but not with any broad substance. I hope Mitt picks him.
    From Portage, WI, BF

  2. Jermitt Krage
    Jermitt Krage says:

    Your comments are right on target. Many of us who voted for Tom Barrett have tried to analyze the recent election. From talking to friends and neighbors and listening to WPR, we have found several stated reasons why various people voted for Walker. Initially we were concerned it was a vote against unions, and in many cases it was. Polling that followed the voting at the various polling places found about a 40-40 split with 10% having expressed no opinion. That issue, as an isolated issue would not have given Walker the winning margin. Other factors high on our list for Walking winning include:
    • People didn’t want to overturn a governor based on policy change.
    • Attack ads regardless if true or not, had a negative impact on Barrett’s chances for governor.
    • Money matters! While the final figures are still out. It appears to be around a 10 to 1 ratio in favor of Walker.
    • In three suburban counties north and west of Milwaukee County, Walker had 150,000 margin of votes over Barrett.
    • Barrett was not a strong candidate for the Democrats.
    • 30+ % of union members and union family members voted for Walker.
    • The potential indictment of Walker was a very small factor in people’s decision to vote against him.
    • Many want to give Walkers policies a chance to see if they will work or not.
    Factors that should have been given more weight in this election in our opinion were:
    • The serious attack by Walker on Public education
    • His attack on public employees
    • Nearly 2/3 of Walker campaign funds came from outside sources
    • The long term impact of Walkers policies on small town and rural communities
    • His attack on the elderly and children who are in poverty.
    • His attack on Women and their rights for good health care,
    • His attack on Wisconsin’s environment.
    A major concern for many of us continues to be how so many people base their decision on 30 second ads. Very few look at the long term impact of decision made by the legislature, including the legislative members who are suppose to be leaders.
    If we give up now, we are the ones who become responsible. Positive change comes to those who are tenacious in their beliefs and act on them.
    on target.


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