Republican governor Scott Walker survives recall in Wisconsin
Wednesday 06 June 2012
The Republican governor of Wisconsin
beat back a recall challenge yesterday, winning endorsement of his
contentious measure to curb union rights for most public workers and
raising hopes that Mitt Romney might make inroads in traditionally
Democratic territory in the presidential race.
Gov. Scott Walker, a rising Republican star who enjoys support from the deeply conservative tea party movement, became the first governor in US history to survive a recall attempt. He defeated his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and the union leaders who rallied for months against his agenda.
With nearly all precincts reporting, Walker had nearly 53 per cent of the vote, compared with 46 per cent for Barrett, according to unofficial returns tabulated by The Associated Press.
Democrats and organized labor spent millions to oust Walker, but found themselves hopelessly outspent by Republicans from across the country who donated record-setting sums to Walker. Republicans hope the victory carries over into November and that their get-out-the-vote effort can help Romney become the first Republican nominee to carry the Midwestern state since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
With the economy the top issue in the presidential election, the victory for Wisconsin conservatives is a boost for Romney who has endorsed budget-slashing, tax-cutting tea party fiscal plans at the national level.
Romney issued a statement saying Walker's victory "will echo beyond the borders of Wisconsin."
Walker "has shown that citizens and taxpayers can fight back — and prevail — against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses," Romney said. "Tonight voters said no to the tired, liberal ideas of yesterday, and yes to fiscal responsibility and a new direction."
President Barack Obama had supported Barrett although he did not campaign in the state for him. But the president's Wisconsin campaign director Trippe Wellde pointed to a bright spot for Democrats: Exit polls showed voters favored Obama over Romney, even though a majority supported Walker's bid to finish the remainder of his four-year term.
In spite of the Republican victory, Wellde said in a statement, the recall challenge sent a strong message to Walker about "the politics of division."
The recall was a rematch of the 2010 governor's race in which Walker rode to victory over Barrett in a Republican wave fueled by tea party voters who advocate smaller government, lower deficits and tax cuts.
Throughout the campaign, Walker maintained his policies had set the state on the right economic track.
"Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions," Walker said in his victory speech at his campaign headquarters in Waukesha.
The governor said he was committed to working with his opponents, beginning with a friendly get-together with lawmakers of both parties over brats, burgers and "maybe a little bit of good Wisconsin beer."
As he conceded his loss, Barrett said the state had been left "deeply divided" by the recall battle.
"It is up to all of us, their side and our side, to listen. To listen to each other," Barrett said.
During the campaign, Barrett repeatedly accused Walker of neglecting the needs of the state in the interests of furthering his own political career by making Wisconsin "the tea party capital of the country." He said Walker had instigated a political civil war in Wisconsin that could be quelled only by a change in leadership.
Walker, the 44-year-old son of a minister, ascended into the national spotlight last year when he surprised the state and unveiled plans to plug a $3.6 billion budget shortfall in part by taking away the union rights of most public workers and requiring them to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits. It was one of his first moves in office.
Democrats and labor leaders saw it as a political tactic designed to gut the power of a key Democratic constituency. State Senate Democrats left Wisconsin for three weeks to delay a vote on the measure, as tens of thousands of teachers, state workers and others rallied at the Capitol in protest.
But the tea-party supported fiscal conservative remained steadfast: Walker believed his plan would help him control the state budget, and his opponents could not stop Republicans who control the state Legislature from approving his plans.
Walker went on to sign into law several other measures that fueled calls for a recall, including making deep cuts to public schools and higher education, and requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
Both sides mobilized thousands of people and millions of dollars to influence voters, whom polls showed were more divided than ever.
Turnout was on pace to meet predictions of 65 per cent of eligible voters — a figure more typically seen in a presidential race.
Walker and Republicans outspent Barrett and Democrats $47 million to $19 million, based on the most recent tally by the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. That made it easily the most expensive in Wisconsin history. The money was spent on an all-out barrage of television ads, direct mail, automated calls and other advertising that permeated the state for months.
Walker used the recall to raise millions from conservative donors and bolster his own political fame in the face of the fight. National Republican groups, including the pro-business Americans for Prosperity and the Republican Governors Association, poured money into the contest.
Unions got behind the recall drive, which started with the collection of more than 900,000 signatures over two months to force the vote. Barrett defeated the union-favored candidate in the Democratic primary in May and then tried to use that to his advantage, while also courting union support. He pledged to call a special legislative session to restore the collective bargaining rights Walker took away.
Also yesterday, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and at least three Republicans in state Senate races also survived recalls. Republicans were leading in the other Senate race, the outcome of which will determine which party controls the Senate at least through the end of the year.
The recall also focused as much on Walker's record creating jobs as on the divisive union proposal. Walker promised in 2010 to create 250,000 jobs over four years as governor, and just how many jobs were created under Walker was a major point of contention. Walker relied on new data showing the state added about 23,000 jobs in 2011, while a different survey that Barrett favored found the state had lost about 34,000.
The only other two governors to have faced a recall vote lost, most recently California Gov. Gray Davis, who was defeated by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2003.
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