What to know about the Wisconsin recall vote
MADISON — You’ve taken the robo-calls for weeks, seen mailers and TV commercials touting one candidate or the other. But what else do you need to know about the Wisconsin recall election? Here’s a quick look at some commonly asked questions.
Q: What started the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker?
A: The recall effort was on Feb. 11, 2011. That was when Walker released his plan to address a state budget shortfall that called on most public workers to pay more for health insurance and pension benefits, and, most important, give up nearly all their collective bargaining rights. The proposal set the recall fire, led to protests that lasted weeks and grew as large as 100,000 people. It motivated 14 Senate Democrats to flee the state for three weeks in a vain attempt to stop the bill. Walker signed it into law March 11 virtually unchanged from how he proposed it.
Q: Isn’t this unusual? How often do governors face recalls?
A: This is the third recall election of a governor in U.S. history. The other two were successful in throwing the incumbent out of office against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
Q: If there’s an effort to kick Walker out of office, does that mean his approval rating is low?
A: The recall is more a result of how divided the state is over Walker and his policies. His approval rating among Wisconsin respondents in the most recent Marquette University Law School poll was 51 percent, just 1 percentage point less than President Barack Obama’s.
Q: Who’s footing the bill for the recall campaigns? Taxpayers? Or someone else?
A: There has been much ado about all the campaign money flowing into Wisconsin from out of state, and for good reason. The recall election has been unlike anything seen before in Wisconsin, with at least $62 million spent by the candidates and outside groups so far. Walker was the top spender at $29 million, with Democrats including Barrett spending about $4 million. Outside groups have spent $21 million and issue ad groups that don’t have to disclose their spending have put in at least $7.5 million. That, of course, is donated money. Taxpayers are anything but off the hook. The recall and a primary for it are special elections that otherwise would not be held. State elections officials estimate the cost of a statewide election to taxpayers is $9 million, for a total of $18 million.
Q: How has the economy played into the campaign? What are the candidates pledging to do to create jobs?
A: The recall may have started over collective bargaining, but the overriding issue has become job creation. Walker promised in 2010 to create 250,000 jobs over four years and he is not on pace to meet that goal. How far afield he is depends on what set of numbers are used to measure his promise. Monthly jobs figures, based on a survey of about 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers, show job creation is flat since Walker took office. But a combination of data, including 2011 numbers derived from a more comprehensive census of employers, shows about 33,000 new jobs have been created in Walker’s term. Barrett, meanwhile, has been more vague, something Walker has used against him. Barrett has said he will adopt a comprehensive jobs agenda that emphasizes manufacturing, small business, clean energy, venture capital, high-tech and bio tech and our agricultural rural economy. He has criticized Walker for making jobs secondary to attacks on public employee unions.
Q: Is Walker the only politician on the ballot facing a recall? What about people who supported him?
A: The Walker-Barrett race is in the national spotlight for obvious reasons, but also on the ballot are recall elections for GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who faces Democrat Mahlon Mitchell, and four GOP state Senate seats. If Democrats can win any one of those seats, they will hold a majority in the Senate for the first time since 2010 and could obstruct any further advancement of Walker’s agenda if he wins.
Q. If someone does not like the results, can there be another recall?
A. Wisconsin law allows for recalls of anyone who has been in office for at least a year. The winner will serve the remainder of Walker’s current term, which runs through 2014. Office holders can only stand for recall once per term, so if Walker wins he will remain in office at least through 2014.
Q. Will turnout be an indicator of an outcome?
A. Turnout is key for both Walker and Barrett in a race that polls show has few undecided voters. Walker must pull strongly from Republican parts of the state, primarily in the conservative Milwaukee suburbs. Barrett needs to do well with his base in Madison and Milwaukee and keep Walker’s margin of victory low in the Republican-leaning Fox Valley area around Green Bay. The election, if it’s close, could be won or lost based on how well the candidates do in western Wisconsin in swing counties along the Mississippi border, as well as other swing parts of the state like in Racine County south of Milwaukee.
Q. What happens Wednesday?
A. If Walker wins the recall, little will change. He will remain governor, and Barrett will remain mayor of Milwaukee. However, if Barrett wins, Walker will remain in office for only a short time. The state elections board has just 18 days to issue a certificate declaring the election results official. When that’s done, he is no longer governor.
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