MADISON, Wisconsin — As union operatives and their allies in the Democratic Party worked tirelessly to gather the required signatures for a recall election of Gov. Scott Walker, two of the top Republicans in Wisconsin agreed that, barely a year after he assumed the statehouse, Walker will almost surely face the voters in a recall election sometime in 2012.
In back-to-back interviews with HUMAN EVENTS this week, both State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said that the governor’s political enemies will probably get the 540,208 signatures they need to submit by January 13 in order to place him on the state ballot again this year. However, both voiced confidence in the eventual triumph of their fellow Republican Walker, who has become a national hate figure for Big Labor for ramming through legislation that would require most public employees in the Badger State to pay a greater share of their retirement benefits and that cut back on collective-bargaining in the public sector. For those same reasons, Walker has become a symbol of positive reform for Republicans and others who want to see government powers limited and government spending controlled.
Fitzgerald and Van Hollen spoke to us on the same day that the State Capitol was rocked by news of the arrest of Tim Russell, a former aide to Walker when he was Milwaukee County Executive, on two felony and one misdemeanor charges. Although the charges have nothing to do with Walker or the policies that have made him a target of the left, several Republican sources said that the Russell arrest could only enhance the drive to remove the governor. As one veteran GOP consultant told HUMAN EVENTS, “You’ve heard of Teflon governors? Scott Walker is a Velcro governor — when his enemies hear something bad about the governor, they try to make it stick.” (Walker himself was out of town on the day of the arrest, Jan. 5.)
“Yeah, they’ll probably get the signatures for the recall,” said Speaker Fitzgerald, “When you are talking about nearly 9,000 active operatives, the sky is the limit for them.” Bringing to mind the recall elections last year against several GOP senators who backed Walker on the reform measures (and which culminated in Republicans clinging to their majority in the senate by one seat), Fitzgerald noted that the unions are attempting to recall four GOP senators allied with Walker this year “and that includes my brother [Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald].”
But, he quickly added, “I don’t think it will succeed in the long run. [Republicans] are going to make the case that, instead of kicking the can down the road the way it has been for years, we implemented real reform measures and turned a $3.6 billion state deficit.” Fitzgerald also said that the record of the Republican-controlled legislature — which includes a balanced budget, a permanent property tax freeze, a photo ID requirement for voting, conceal-and-carry legislation, and “the largest tort reform package in the U.S.” — would help Walker and the GOP survive the anticipated onslaught.
“More importantly,” Fitzgerald said, “folks are now seeing that the sky hasn’t fallen in. The reforms we passed are working.”
Two-term Attorney General Van Hollen agreed. Noting that “my office is in the middle of this, because the tumult over this recall idea requires a lot of legal work,” Van Hollen said that “the prognosis is that chances of a recall election by this summer are high, but the chances of the governor surviving and moving on are also high.”
As Van Hollen sees it, “Gov. Walker’s eventual opponent will say he’s failed and the governor can say ‘So you want us to go back to the status quo?’ The governor has offered refreshing change and that’s why he should prevail.”
The attorney general agreed that “the reforms have negatively impacted [public sector] unions and that’s the single most organized entity in Wisconsin.” However, he also pointed out that, so far at least, Democrats have not been able to come up with a fresh candidate to carry their banner against Walker. At this point, the most often mentioned names are those of former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk (whom Van Hollen defeated to become attorney general in 2006) and State Sen. Tim Cullen.
“And there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said, “but that’s what you will get in the ‘People’s Republic of Madison.'”