Roaring Start for Walker Recall, but Big Conservative Bucks Loom in Background

Roger Bybee

With the November 15 launch of a petition drive for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s labor war over the revocation of public-employee rights has burst back on to the national stage. The drive netted more than 106,000 signatures in its first four days.

More than 540,000 signers are required to trigger a recall election in which Walker will face a Democratic candidate — who has not yet emerged — most likely in the first few months of next year.The fast start has organizers in the United Wisconsin coalition optimistic, but they will need to be ready to fend off take-no-prisoner Republican tactics and a vast amount of conservative money contributed by sources like the Bradley Foundation (see below) and the Koch brothers.

On Saturday, November 19, the petition drive gained momentum with a rally in Madison of some 30,000 supporters of public-employee rights, which were rendered virtually inoperable by Walker’s Senate Bill 10 passed last spring.

The crowd, addressed by labor leaders like Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, has taken heart from Ohio voters’ repeal of similar legislation passed by GOP lawmakers there earlier this year. The Ohio victory for labor was a severe rebuke to key Walker ally Gov. John Kasich, whose approval numbers were already tanking before the referendum. He appeared contrite after the vote, but Walker is zealously maintaining that the Ohio vote has no repercussions in Wisconsin.

The governor, appearing at a hair-styling school in Green Bay, said of the Ohio results: I don’t think they will have any correlation (here in Wisconsin),” reported John Nichols of Madison’s Capital Times. Actually, the Ohio vote was similar to February polling results that showed 65 percent of Wisconsinites opposed to Walker’s bill to effectively strip all public employees except police and firefighters of their union rights.

Further, Nichols pointed out, Walker, who once worked closely with Kasich and provided mutual support in their crusades, is now asserting that he can stand alone in his battle against public-employees’ right to a union voice:

Back when he was refusing to talk to state employees and citizens, the governor did take a call that he thought was from billionaire political donor David Koch [who famously turned out to be a Buffalo, NY blogger who pulled off posing as the rightist Walker donor.]

During that call, Walker and Koch” spoke at some length about how the fights in Wisconsin and Ohio were the same, and about how Walker was guiding Ohio Governor Kasich through the process of undermining labor rights and unions.“I talk to Kasich every day — John’s got to stand firm in Ohio.”

But Walker’s polling numbers are headed in the same direction as Kasich’s, fueling enthusiasm among his opponents:

The Wisconsin Public Radio/​St. Norbert College Survey shows that 58 percent of respondents believe Walker should be recalled from office. That compares with 47 percent who said in April that Walker should be recalled.

Walker’s approval ratings are also low, with 58 percent saying they disapprove of the job he’s doing. That’s down from 48 percent in the spring.

But labor and progressives have learned not to count out Walker or his Wisconsin Republican allies too early.

To pass S.B. 10 earlier this year, Republicans state legislators flagrantly violated the state’s Open Meetings law, which requires advance notice of legislative business. Now Republicans insist that the recall election be held in newly-redistricted districts which were not supposed to go into effect until the November 2012 elections. The redistricting plans already face several legal challenges for their crudely partisan makeup favoring Republicans, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:

Wisconsin’s new maps are to take effect in November 2012, but now Republicans want recall elections to be held in the new districts, which favor their party. Democrats, meanwhile, want to keep the recall elections in the old districts.

Further, Wisconsin will be implementing a new voter ID law — being contested by the League of Women Voters — which will make voting much harder for those who lack driver’s licenses, which includes 23 percent of elderly Wisconsinites, 59 percent of Latina women and 78 percent of African-American men ages 18 to 24.


Another critical advantage for Walker and the Right is the under-appreciated influence of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. The Bradley Foundation — now presided over by Walker 2010 campaign chair Michael Grebe — has given out far more money to Rightist causes than the properly-vilified (see here, here and here) Koch brothers’ foundations — $364.2 million, compared to the Kochs’ $124.7 million, over the past decade, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently reported.

More importantly, with its massive web of professors-for-rent and its contacts in right-wing media outlets which it has labored long and hard to foster, the Bradley Foundation has scored immense successes in shifting public debate away from the greed of the richest 1% to the alleged mental and moral deficiencies of the poorest 20 percent (including financing and promoting the odious white-supremacist Bell Curve book), leading the fight for the termination of welfare, pushing a vast expansion of school choice” to undermine universal public education, and subsidizing the neo-cons (Cheney, Wolfowitz, Kristol, etc.) whose Project for a New American Century culminated in the Iraq War.

Madison labor attorney Ed Garvey, who has been following the Bradley Foundation’s mounting influence over the last quarter-century, observed, At the same time they are funding anti-union outfits [e.g., the Center on Union Information], the Bradley Foundation is shielding the top 1% from taxes by paying Grover Norquist to collect anti-tax pledges. So we now have a Congress that pledges allegiance to Grover Norquist instead of the nation.”

With the recall coming up, the Bradley Foundation will surely defend its major investment in Walker, who so faithfully carries out its game plan, Garvey warns.

Expect the foundation and the recipients of its largesse –like Americans for Prosperity and the MacIver Institute, columnists George Will and Paul Gigot — to wage an all-out war on Walker’s behalf.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
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