(Editor’s Note: Winning Progressive is happy to welcome our newest contributor, Eric Brehm, a Wisconsin teacher who runs the blog Bang the Buckets and who authored a much-circulated open letter to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker back in early 2011 when Gov. Walker first started his attack on workers. Please welcome Eric and check out his blog.)
(By Eric Brehm, cross-posted at Bang The Buckets)
The effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is a few weeks old now, and a number of liberals and progressives in the state have already signed a petition. As of this writing, over 300,000 signatures have been collected, over half of the required 540,208 needed to trigger the recall.
In full disclosure, I signed the recall petition myself. If you’re like me and you believe that Scott Walker’s policies are detrimental to Wisconsin’s progressive heritage, there are a few things that you can do.
1. Sign the recall petition.
2. Contact your friends or neighbors or relatives or anyone you know that might lean toward the political left, and encourage them to sign the recall petition, as well. (And if you’re reading this from out-of-state, call your Wisconsin friends and tell them, please.)
Obviously, the number released to the media would indicate that many of you are already doing these things. The question is whether these two steps will be enough. It makes sense that the initial phases of the recall effort would see a wealth of signatures; some of us have been waiting to sign since February. While I am encouraged by the results thus far, I also think it is fair to suggest that signatures will only be harder to come by in the future weeks. Even if the signatures are gathered (and I believe they will be), that is only the first part of a larger goal. The real goal for progressives is to ensure that Scott Walker gets voted out of office.
That is when progressives are going to need to do the harder work, but it is important work:
3. Seek out moderates or those on the fence, and talk to them. Don’t yell at them or berate them; just talk to them. Educate them as to why you believe Scott Walker has to go.
This is the step where I have a sense that the progressive voice may faltering. Despite the initial enthusiasm for the recall among those on the left, I’m not sure that I have heard an over-riding message as to why Scott Walker should be voted out of office that translates to the center. The most common refrain that I have heard so far is some variation of “Walker sucks.” That’s just preaching to the choir, in my opinion, and it might not be good enough to carry the state. He’s a sitting governor who is going to have a massive campaign war chest with financial backing from the Koch brothers. If the best that progressives can do is “Walker sucks,” progressives will lose.
Remember, the goal is not merely to collect 540,208 signatures. The goal is to trigger a recall election, and then have Scott Walker lose it. We need more than “Walker sucks” for that. We need to make certain that a viable candidate runs against him, and we need to educate the voters of Wisconsin on the issues, not on our opinions. When someone who is on the fence comes up to us and asks, “But really – why should I sign?” or “Why should I vote for someone else?” we need to be prepared to give some answers.
With grateful thanks to Winning Progressive, I hope to provide talking points that might help with some of those answers, so that if you find yourself addressing someone who might be swayed to the progressive side, you have a host of reasonable points to make. This is not a time to be bashful and shy away from those conversations – rather it is a time to address them directly and calmly. We can’t win over everybody, but we can win over some, and perhaps we can win over enough to vote Scott Walker out of office in a recall election.
To that end, here’s a few to get you started. For each reason provided, I have tried to back them up with source material. When asked “But really – why should I sign?” you might try to answer with some of the following:
Reason #1: Jobs.
Scott Walker campaigned on the notion that he was the best candidate to bring jobs to Wisconsin. So, how has he done? Well, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the U.S. Department of Labor, his record is not so good. Unemployment in Wisconsin stood at 7.4% in January of 2011 when Governor Walker took office. Since then, it rose steadily until August, hitting a peak of 7.9%. While it has fallen slightly in September and October, preliminary reports for October place it at 7.7%, which is still higher than when the governor began his term. As of this writing, Wisconsin has actually lost over 6,000 jobs during the governor’s tenure.
Critics will no doubt point out that President Obama’s record on jobs is not much better, and that is true. But President Obama has done what he has done (or not done, depending upon your opinion), with a House that is dominated by TEA Party Republicans dedicated to defeating the President’s agenda. Scott Walker, on the other hand, has had almost everything going for him. He controlled the Executive Branch. Both houses of the State Legislature are controlled by members of his own political party. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court is sympathetic toward his politics. And yet, with all of that going for him, Wisconsin has fewer jobs, rather than more. Simply put, this is failure.
Why did he fail? Well, there are many reasons, of course, but the easiest one to mention is that it is possible that Scott Walker simply doesn’t care about job creation. Upon taking office, Scott Walker refused $810 million in federal stimulus funds to build a light rail between Madison and Milwaukee. The project would provide jobs. When completed, it would provide greener transportation between Wisconsin’s two largest cities. And best of all, it was to be paid for with federal dollars, and not cost the taxpayers of Wisconsin one cent. Governor Walker looked this kind of progress squarely in the face, and turned it down.
According to an article in the Huffington Post, the light rail project would have provided 125 jobs for the Milwaukee plant of train maker Talgo. In addition, the line would have added hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of ancillary jobs once it was in place. I submit that when asked why someone should sign a recall petition, it is reasonable to suggest that one reason is the dismal job record of Governor Walker.
Reason #2: Water.
In March of this year, it was reported that Governor Walker’s proposed budget might in fact violate the Federal Clean Water Act. The budget showed that the governor was willing to accept higher levels of phosphorous in Wisconsin’s lakes and streams. Phosphorous is a common ingredient in chemical fertilizers, and it has been linked to the growth of toxic algae. Now, to be fair, Wisconsin has had some of the most stringent phosphorous requirements in the Midwest, and the governor’s proposal was to lower the standards to be more in line with other states, but the toxic algae doesn’t know that. Aside from phosphorous, the budget also proposed the elimination of stormwater regulations that measured pollutants running off streets and parking lots.
Whatever else can be said about Wisconsin’s economy, we can say that a significant portion of it is derived from tourism. Residents as well as those in neighboring states come to Wisconsin for its waters and lakes. They swim in our lakes, fish in our streams, and spend their money at local grocery stores and gas stations and restaurants and shops. Even aside from the tourism industry, I think it is prudent to suggest that a reasonable person might in fact enjoy clean water. Governor Walker seems to see it differently.
Reason #3: Cronyism
Governor Walker has shown a fairly strong tendency to “take care of his own,” so to speak. The one area in which he has provided jobs has been to those with close ties to the Republican Party of Wisconsin, or to those who donated heavily to his campaign.
In February of this year Valerie Cass was hired as a communications specialist with the Department of Regulation and Licensing. Though listed as a temporary post, the 26-year-old Cass received pay that worked out to roughly $11,000 more than her predecessor in the position. Prior to this position, Cass was a former Republican legislative staffer. She is perhaps best known for being former State Senator Randy Hopper’s girlfriend. Hopper has since been recalled.
In March, a young man named Brian Deschane was awarded the task of overseeing environmental and regulatory matters within the Department of Commerce at a salary of $81,500 per year. Deschane received the position though he had no college degree, little management experience, and two drunk-driving convictions at the time. His father, Jerry Deschane, was credited with using his position in the Wisconsin Builder’s Association to funnel more than $100,000 in contributions to Scott Walker’s campaign.
In April, Renee Miller was appointed as Register of Deeds for Marinette County, even though she apparently had little or no experience with land or vital records. She did have one very powerful letter of recommendation from Republican Representatives John Nygren. Miller had worked on Nygren’s election campaigns, and was in fact married to Nygren’s campaign treasurer.
And, although all the fuss over collective bargaining obscured the point, the governor’s so-called Budget Repair bill included a provision to replace 39 civil service positions with political appointees of his own choosing. Those appointees were not only put in place, but in many cases were paid higher salaries than the civil servants that had preceded them.
In the weeks to come, I’ll be back with more reasons why I think Governor Walker should face a recall election, and why I think he should lose it. Until then, if you find yourself in conversation with a moderate or to someone on the fence about the recall – or even to a Republican – I hope you will find these talking points helpful. I would suggest that you try not to get involved in the shouting matches that we regularly see in the media, but instead, calmly ask: Is this really what they think is best for Wisconsin?