by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
June 7, 2012
CAN OBAMA SURVIVE A MUDDLED ECONOMIC RECOVERY?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- It's not an exaggeration to say that the June 5 gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin between incumbent Republican Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett is the most important election this year.
That's because this election is a referendum on whether democratic, grassroots activism can overcome corporate dollars in the age of Citizens United.
Walker has raised more than $25 million, mostly from his out-of-state corporate benefactors like Charles and David Koch, and has spent that money on an all-out advertising blitz.
Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, Wisc., has raised only $1 million, and has to count upon the grassroots momentum that gathered more than 900,000 signatures in a matter of a couple of months to force the recall election.
Not only is Walker being challenged, but Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and four state Senate seats are also being contested.
Only two governors in U.S. history, Lynn Frazier in North Dakota in 1921 and Gray Davis in California in 2003, have lost recall elections.
Walker was elected in 2010 in the Tea Party backlash election, an election that gave Republicans control of the state Assembly and Senate and the Governor's Mansion (as well as the U.S. House of Representatives).
He promised to create 250,000 new jobs. Instead, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin had the worst record of job creation in 2011, and is one of only five states to suffer a net loss of private-sector jobs.
Walker's real agenda became apparent from the day he took office - destroy unions, cut wages and benefits for public sector workers, and slash spending for education and social services.
A rather damning videotape came out recently of a Jan. 18, 2011, conversation between Walker and Diane Hendricks, a billionaire businesswoman that gave $510,000 to Walker's campaign.
In their conversation, Hendricks asked Walker, "Any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions."
"Oh, yeah," Walker broke in.
"...and become a right-to-work?" Hendricks continued. "What can we do to help you?"
"Well, we're going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill," Walker said. "The first step is we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use 'divide and conquer.'"
And that's exactly what Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald did. Under the guise of balancing the state budget, they attempted to strip the collective bargaining rights from about 330.000 public sector workers, while cynically exempting more popular police and fire personnel to avoid a wider backlash.
It didn't quite work as planned. The cops and firefighters marched alongside the teachers and nurses, and other workers - union and non-union alike - joined in the massive rallies that protested the Walker/Fitzgerald bill last year.
Coming on the heels of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, what happened in Wisconsin was the first real push back against the Republican idea that cutting taxes for the wealthy while slashing services and attacking public workers would create job growth.
Like their counterparts in Spain and Greece, the protesters in Wisconsin helped to spotlight the intellectual bankruptcy of austerity as an economic policy. And that's why the Koch brothers and their allies are spending so much money to make sure Walker stays in office. A Walker win would not only be a triumph for the politics of the 1 percent, it would mean Walker would be the early favorite for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
The race is closer than it should be, and the Democratic National Committee has been slow to get into the fight and provide resources to counter the tsunami of Koch Bros. cash for Walker.
If the Democrats blow this one, and Walker survives, more Republican governors around the country would try to follow through on the anti-worker agenda that has made Walker the darling of the corporate right-wingers.
This is the line in the sand. Wisconsin should be the grave for the politics of austerity and Citizens United. The state with a proud legacy of progressive reform can be the state where the rollback begins, and Americans start reclaiming their governments from the hands of grifters who sneer at the idea of the public interest and the public good.
As Wisconsin goes, so will the nation. That's why this election is so important.
AR Chief of Correspondents Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.