There isn't a whole lot funny about the way the Recall campaign turned out, but one thing is the hilarious attempt by Scott Walker to strike a bipartisan, can't-we-all-get-along pose. Mr. Drop-the Bomb, Mr. Divide-and-Conquer, Mr. Bipartisanship-Is-Not-So-Good now wants you to believe he can pull people together to work for the good of the state. The radical Republican party that once put out arrest warrants for its opponents somehow managed to get most of the multi-abused Democrats to show up at the governor's mansion on Tuesday to sip suds and chew brats. Hey, no hard feelings, right?
Wrong, assholes. Walker and the Republicans remind me of the worst that prosecutors want to imagine about my domestic violence clients: Historically abusive man [GOP] goes too far one night [dropping "bombs"; ignoring open meeting laws; moving votes in the middle of the night, etc.]. This compels his usually overly-patient partner [Democrats] to call the cops and have him arrested [recalled]. Man is released within hours and lawyers-up with the best representation money can buy [Michael Best, et al]. Although ordered to have no contact, a war of words escalates, with the man's family and friends loudly taking his side [talk radio, Fox "News", secretly-funded attack ads]. The character of the abused partner is disparaged (crazy bitch!) [crazy, dirty hippie protester; union thug] and clueless friends of the perp decide it's no big deal and wish it all away [Journal Sentinel].
But the DA thinks they have a case and proceed to trial [recall petitions produce recall elections]. On the day of trial, the victim fails to show up to avenge her injury [57% turn-out]. Relieved man, knowing he dodged a bullet, buys her flowers and takes her out to a nice dinner [beer, brats and bullshit], pronouncing how he's a Changed Man and That will never happen again. Until it does, and worse [starting in January, if the Senate flips back].
Let's begin our postmortem of the recall efforts by proclaiming what nobody in what passes for a mainstream media in this state will admit: the flipping of the Senate to the Democrats, however brief, through two hard-fought recall cycles last year and this, is huge. The Democratic majority in the Senate for the remainder of this year will prevent any more bad shit that the radical Republicans had planned if they won all the recall races last week. You just know, if that had happened, they would have called a special session, like, yesterday to jam more ALEC/Koch/Bradley-generated crap through their obedient caucuses. As it is, the petty, power-clutching Republicans won't even allow the Senate to convene to organize under the new leadership the Dems won last Tuesday. In this poisonous, tyrannical environment, nothing coming out of the national-joke Wisconsin legislature for the remainder of this year is a very good thing. As much as the increasingly right-wing Journal Sentinel likes to berate the recall process as "a waste of time and money", the Senate recalls have resulted (for now) in the end of unchecked Republican power in Madison. Taking the Senate back through the recall process was not "a waste of time"; it was a monumental, historic and very useful accomplishment.
As for the Recall Walker effort, there are a lot of reasons it met with such disastrous results. Most of them, sad to say, lie right at the feet of the recall organizers and the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
There is only one question that should have been asked as the one-year anniversary of Walker's sad ascendance approached -- are we sure we are going to win this thing? If the answer from the goddamn consultants (more about them later) was "we don't know" or anything less than a resounding YES, they had no business starting the process of circulating the petitions. I'm guessing there was quite a conflict between the Wise Men in the DNC offices and the enraged cheeseheads here. The national party showed from the beginning that they had no stomach for this fight; not because they won't fight, but because they could see this result coming, and probably advised the locals to skip it.
Perhaps spurred more by passion than reason (albeit very valid emotions and many very good reasons), the Wisconsinites surged ahead anyway. It may well be that they had some polling way back then indicating high Walker negatives and a possible win. But they should have been able to see the Citizens United fueled, talk-radio enabled, Journal Sentinel encouraged shitstorm coming. And, if they didn't have a plan and a candidate that they knew would meet every challenge presented by a win-at-all-costs governor with no morals or scruples and access to more money than god, the state party leadership should have spiked it and focus on taking back the Senate -- which they accomplished anyway, almost as an afterthought and despite themselves. That might not have stopped an independent movement to recall the most radical, destructive governor in Wisconsin history, but some damage to the party brand might have been avoided.
OK, so maybe the leadership figured they could not just leave all those people who took to the streets in Madison last year and the millions across the state that have felt the sting of the radical Republican agenda hanging. Perhaps they felt they needed to follow through on the spontaneous outcry from February 2011 to try to recall Walker, win or lose. Fine. Once in, though, the recall leaders and the party proved sadly inept.
There was an inkling of much they had their heads up their ass early. I have been told by people who know these sorts of things that the party leadership went "on bended knee" to try to convince their preferred candidate to run against Walker. Yes, it was a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin. No, it wasn't Russ Feingold. Apparently, everyone's first choice to take back the governor's chair was...Herb Kohl. Now, I love me some Herb Kohl. He has represented progressive Wisconsin effectively for 24 years in Washington and is a sweetheart of a guy. But, politically, he's done. At 77, Kohl is hardly the vigorous candidate we would need to go against the Walker machine. If he wanted to do us all a favor, Kohl would have just run again for his senate seats and spare the indignity of Wisconsin being represented by both rodeo clown Ron Johnson and, possibly and ominously, Eric Hovde.
The find-a-candidate miscalculations didn't stop there. I was told back in December by one of the prime movers of the recall movement that the candidate would be -- no doubt about it -- Kathleen Falk. I also like and respect what I know about Falk. In fact, her campaign set up phone calls with various political bloggers back in January or so, and I had a very interesting conversation with her. It turned out we had a lot in common as far as law schools, public-interest lawyering, etc. Her fire-in-the-belly and enthusiasm for the mission to oust Walker was palpable and she turned out to be a much better candidate than I expected.
After that conversation with Falk, I held off on putting up a post titled "Tom Barrett for Governor" long before he got into the race. At the time I was writing that post in my head (where so many posts go to die), the Falk campaign had just come out with its declaration that, if she won, she would veto any budget bill that did not have the re-institution of collective bargaining rights for public employees in it. It was foolish for the unions to insist on that kind of promise and foolish for Falk to agree to it. The promise fed right into the right-wing lie that the recall effort was all about the unions (which it wasn't) and made her look like a puppet (which she wasn't).
Eventually, Barrett jumped in and he and Falk actually waged a fairly positive campaign against each other while keeping the focus on the need to dump the radical Walker regime. In the primary, Barrett beat Falk soundly -- even in Dane County -- the former rivals joined forces, and it was left to Barrett face Walker and try to save the state. It was not to be, and I'm unaware of anyone claiming Falk would have done any better. If anyone is saying that, they're crazy.
Barrett may have got thumped anyway and hindsight is 20/20, but there were many bad choices made by the goddamn consultants running the campaign after the primary that may have made a difference.
More about that in Part 2.