A tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm and energy has gone into circulating petitions to recall Governor Scott “The Fiscal Phantom” Walker, and Lt. Governor Rebecca “Minivan” Kleefish, but defeat could easily be snatched from the jaws of victory if the Democratic Party nominates Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to oppose Walker in a recall election.
Barrett has done a reasonably competent job as mayor, and he was generally satisfactory to his north side congressional district up until 2002 – as evidenced by the fact that voters kept re-electing him. But he was an extremely uninspiring candidate for governor, and that is a significant reason why Walker got elected in the first place. Milwaukee commuters found him notoriously noncommittal about getting buses off the property tax levy.
The 2010 election was marked by the absence of almost one third of the nearly three million voters who turned out in November 2008. Only 2.2 million eligible voters, 52.6 percent, bothered to vote in November 2010. That is not unusual for statewide offices, which are always held between presidential elections. But the reasons are critical to the outcome of the recall.
Volunteers going door to door for any candidate of either major party heard comments like “How can I choose between two people I can’t trust?” While Walker was obviously one of those candidates, Barrett was obviously another. Voters expect a refreshing new choice, perhaps even some straight talk and honest dealing, to come out of a recall election. Having to choose once more between the devil we know and the devil we know, might resign voters to the devil we have.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is probably the only outfit willing and able to orchestrate the logistics of collecting 545,000 valid signatures within a 60-day period. But the Democratic Party is not the primary motivator of the recall, just the willing beneficiary.
The key constituencies are the citizens who voted for Walker, and are so horrified that they want him out again, plus, the citizens so unimpressed by Walker OR Barrett that they stayed home. Outrage at Walker’s performance may well get the previously unmotivated out to the polls, but they have already eloquently expressed their views on Tom Barrett.
Obviously, those citizens who voted FOR Walker, and are now out circulating recall petitions, have long since made their views of Barrett quite plain. More than anything else, a recall election depends on the number of voters willing to shift their vote. If everyone pretty much votes the way they did previously, there is not much chance of recalling the winner of the last election.
Voters are not pining nostalgically for the good old days when Jim Doyle was governor. Doyle did as much damage to public transit as Walker – albeit he may have had more innocent intentions. Nor are voters pining for a chance to put Tom Barrett in the governor’s office. Voters are looking for None Of The Above.
That doesn’t rule out experience, but it does rule out those who have already been tried and found wanting. If the Democratic Party expects to benefit from the backlash against Walker, it will have to offer voters something AND someone fresher, and more forthright, than the incumbent being recalled.