Nearly a million Wisconsinites sign recall petition, I shake some of their hands
[UPDATE 1/17/12: 1.1 million recall signatures turned in.]
So Santa Claus Steve flew me out to Wisconsin. He thought I should do a little tour and pump up petitioners during the last leg of the recall effort. And who am I to argue with Santa Claus Steve? People like me here. OK, most people like me here. In Milwaukee there were two women collecting recall signatures right in the airport. Santa Claus Steve introduced me as David Koch. I tried to make him stop doing that, but he wouldn’t.
The recall petitions get turned in to Madison and officially tallied on January 17th (unfortunately, I have to be in Buffalo to fight for the Freedom of the Press – the WordPress, but still). I’m not privy to any official recall numbers, but between you and me, Wisconsin absolutely crushed this thing. 540,000 signatures are needed to trigger a recall election; I’d be surprised if the final number weren’t more in the 1 million neighborhood — each for Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.
I get that 1 million from the Government Accountability Board’s estimate of how long it will take to validate all the signatures, an anonymous source in the know, and my own corroborating unofficial count as I traveled from recall office to recall office.
And I call him Santa Claus Steve because he looks like Santa Claus. Naturally. He’s a relatively recent retiree who investigated auto theft for the DOT. I first met him when I was here last March. He often wears a red polar fleece jacket, too, so I think it’s kind of his thing. I’m also calling him that because I don’t want to get him killed. He lives in a pretty red part of the state. One of their neighbors called his adorable wife, a semi-retired English teacher, a “nigger lover” because she voted for Obama. Another of their neighbors is so scared the President’s going to take his guns away that he’s taken to making rifles by hand to stockpile. Seriously. Steve was collecting recall signatures not too long ago and the town fire chief angrily demanded to see his identification, to give you some idea of the hostile environment. And that’s really the least disturbing intimidation story I heard travelling around the state.
I met “Fightin’ Bob from Oshkosh” last weekend. He was wearing Oshkosh overalls. Really. Dude’s collected about 1,400 signatures by himself. Besides being a generally awesome, what makes Fightin’ Bob particularly cool is that he works at a non-union shop. He doesn’t fall for the notion that private employees should tear public employees down to their level. He gets it. And because he gets it, he’s been threatened numerous times while canvassing. He recently bought a video camera to document the abuse, and this video of a man threatening to kill Fightin’ Bob caused quite a stir:
Things are a bit heated here.
At a little shindig out in Campbellsport, I met a guy named Jim who’s gotten 1,451 signatures. He basically parked himself in front of the post office in Waupun for three week. Being the signature-collecting machine he is, Jim was given a major award for his efforts. It was a gardening glove on a wooden stand, its middle finger extended — an homage to the hundreds of birds Jim’s politely endured during the recall. “They were my motivation!” he told the laughing crowd.
“You know what kept me out there?” Jim asked me. “My grandchildren. Walker’s destroying their future, and I couldn’t let that happen.” Jim’s a self-described independent who calls the purported differences between Republicans and Democrats “political theater.” “Working people are not represented by the Republicans or Democrats,” he told me.
In Fond du Lac, they reached their original goal of 6,000 signatures in a matter of weeks. They collected more than 12,000 total. There have been similarly smashed goals in lots of these little towns, which is remarkable because they’re typically redder than Satan’s ass. “4,000 signatures in Manitowoc in one day!” someone enthusiastically yelled in my face last Saturday. I totally killed in Manitowoc, by the way. Santa Claus Steve says I was “in my element.” Funny because I thought my element was boron.
Shit. There’s a lot more to my trip, too, but I don’t want to cause a “controversy.” I’m an “anti-military bigot,” according to some right-wing radio douche out of Milwaukee called Charlie Sykes. He tried smearing Democratic State Senator Jessica King for standing in the same room as me. Through back channels I heard that her office received about 500 emails and calls about me. And some Wisconsin-based blog will not stop trying to slam Democrats, for standing in physical proximity to yours truly. Although, this Ian Murphy seems to be from The Daily Beast:
So Walker and crew will try their best to challenge signatures and generally drag this thing out, but if their advertising onslaught is any indication, Walker knows he’s facing a tough election. The question of the day: Who is going to run against him? A favorite among Democratic Party insiders is Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. “She doesn’t have a name,” complained a woman in Appleton. “We need a name to win.” Joe McCarthy’s feeding worms in Appleton. It’s the home of the John Birch society. The people in the Appleton recall office were a little off. I hate to say it, but I think there’s something in the water.
Some other names out there are State Senator John Erpenbach, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, former U.S. Representatives David Obey and Steve Kagan, department store mogul Senator Herb Kohl, and State Senator Tim Cullen.
You may remember from his conversation with “David Koch” that Scott Walker considered Cullen the only “reasonable one” of the 14 Senators who fled the state to deny Walker a quorum on the “budget repair” bill. When Walker wouldn’t pick up the phone for Senator Tim Carpenter, or even Santa Claus Steve (he called 60 times), he was talking to Cullen and “David Koch.” Not sure what that says.
“Oh, I’m running,” Cullen told me, “until somebody stops me.” I met him and Senator Jauch in the Capitol. Cullen posted about it on Facebook but immediately erased it because I’m a terrorist or whatever. Cullen’s got the moderate cred that might just get him elected. He’s the only guy in town who can point to the Walker/”Koch” call and both condemn Walker and affirm his bipartisan bona fides.
“I think Cullen’s the only one with a chance to win,” Jim the signature-gathering-machine told me. He may be right. They may not be excited by him, but the people who hate Walker will hold their noses and vote Cullen. And those who won’t vote out Walker in favor of a real lefty, might vote for him, too. This is speculation, of course.
There are cracks forming within the Republican leadership, and 4 Republican Senators are facing a recall — one of them the much-despised Scott Fitzgerald. The current balance of the Senate is 17 Rep/16 Dems. For a far more comprehensive report on this, stay tuned to Dane101.
Wisconsin’s a schizophrenic place. It’s home to Joe McCarthy and the John Birch Society, but it’s also the home of Fightin’ Bob La Follete, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and The Progressive magazine. In the Milwaukee airport, I got a coffee while waiting for my flight back to Buffalo. “I’m going to vote for Walker again,” the cashier said. “Thank you very much.” I forgot I was still wearing my Recall Walker button.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because he did everything he said he would!” she growled. This is false. Under Walker Wisconsin has lost more jobs than any other state. And if he’d campaigned on the platform of ending collective bargaining, he never would’ve been elected. But I didn’t much feel like arguing, so I just took my change and said, “Have a fascist day!”
“This is the beginning of the end of Scott Walker,” said former US Representative Steve Kagan. He stopped by the Fond du Lac recall office closing party. “Have your party, but tomorrow get out there and continue fighting!” These people worked their asses off getting Walker recalled. And they’re not going to stop fighting now.
Anyway, thanks for having me, Wisconsin. I’ll try to be back there for the election.