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As Wisconsin Governor's Poll Numbers Tank, GOP Moves to 'Rig' Recall | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

As Wisconsin Governor's Poll Numbers Tank, GOP Moves to 'Rig' Recall

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s support has collapsed, according to a new poll that shows that 58 percent of voters favor recalling the Republican whose anti-labor initiatives provoked the mass demonstrations that anticipated the Occupy Wall Street movement.

According to a new St. Norbert College/Wisconsin Public Radio survey of Wisconsin voters, only 38 percent of voters now support retaining Walker as governor. That represents a ten-point drop in support for the governor since last spring, when it was presumed that he had bottomed out. In fact, they have continued to decline, with significant movement of previously undecided voters into the anti-Walker camp. Thirty-seven percent of Wisconsinites now “strongly disapprove” of Walker’s governorship, while 21 percent merely disapprove. Among the most engaged (and presumably likely) voters, the figire rises to a remarkable 61 percent overall disapproval number for the governor. Significantly, while attitudes toward President Obama and the state’s Republican senator, Ron Johnson, have remained relatively steady, Walker’s numbers have tanked. That’s a serious problem for the governor, as it suggests that voters are crossing partisan and even ideological lines to oppose him.

The numbers, revealed in a poll by the state’s premier survey group and parallel to figures seen in some internal polls, explain why Walker has responded so aggressively to the threat posed by a recall drive, which launched Tuesday.

In the latest of a series of desperate moves by Walker and his backers, Republican legislator moved Tuesday to give the embattled governor veto power over decisions about the recall election he is likely to face next spring.

The Republican-led Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules has ordered the state’s Government Accountability Board—an independent agency that oversees elections in Wisconsin—to submit decisions regarding key voting-rights issues to a formal rule-making process that gives Governor Walker and Republican legislative leaders the ability to reject rule changes made by the GAB.

Critics warn that this gives Walker the power to dictate how the GAB runs elections—including a new election that would be scheduled if opponents of the governor succeed in filing 540,000 valid signatures on recall petitions. That’s because, under an executive order the governor recently issued, he now has the authority to veto newly created administrative rules—if they are formally promulgated. The decision by the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, which was made in a party-line vote Tuesday, requires the formalizing of the rules in a manner that gives the final say to the governor, as opposed to the independent board that is supposed to set election rules and oversee voting.

“What we’re doing here is we’re neutering the GAB,” complained state Senator Fred Risser, the Madison Democrat who is the senior member of the legislature.

The assault on the GAB won’t necessarily prevent a recall election. The state’s constitution sets the basic outlines for the process of recalling elected officials. But could make things harder for those promoting the recall and for those—especially students—who want to vote in the election.

The governor has reason to be concerned for his political future.

Since the drive to force Walker to face a new election was launched at 12:01 am Tuesday, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites have signed petitions circulated by backers of the recall effort. From the urban neighborhoods of Milwaukee, where union members angered by the governor’s attacks on collective-bargaining rights are knocking doors, to country roads, where rural activists have set up roadside stands to gather signatures, the recall movement clearly has gained traction.

That may explain why Walker’s legislative allies are moving to give the governor the authority to erect roadblocks to the recall.

The Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules on Tuesday ordered the GAB to formalize three decisions, including:

1. a determination allowing technical college IDs to count as college IDs under the photo ID for voting law

2. a determination that it is acceptable to use stickers to update college ID addresses

3. a determination that it is appropriate to electronically circulate recall and nomination papers.

It is the requirement that the board formalize their decisions through the rule-making process that will give Walker and his allies the ability to formally accept of reject rule changes. That gives them veto power with regard to how elections are organized and run.

One of the legislators who in 2007 helped to create the GAB as an independent agency says that the move by the Joint Committee threatens forever the autonomy of the non-partisan agency charged with overseeing government ethics and elections.

“Republicans are trying to make it harder for students to vote and they should be ashamed of themselves,” argues state Representative Mark Pocan, a Madison Democrat who is a former co-chair of the legislative Joint Finance Committee. “Today, Republicans sent a strong signal that Scott Walker wants the fairest election he can rig.”

Pocan and recall backers worry that, even if the governor does not veto GAB moves, the threat could intimidate what is supposed to be an independent agency.

It could, as well, lead to legal wrangling that will further complicate the recall process.

Walker and Wisconsin Republicans have not shied away from causing complication and confusion as they have been forced to deal with recall threats that last summer targeted—and removed—several of the governor’s legislative allies and that now threaten Walker himself.

The governor and his backers have been fiercely critical of the recall drive and they have taken dramatic steps to avert it:

1. The Republican co-chair of the legislative Joint Finance Committee has proposed to amend the state constitution to severly restrict circumstances in which recall elections can be sought.

2. A Republican state senator who is closed allied with the governor sought to tighten requirements for notarizing recall petitions in a way that would have made it much harder for citizens to circulate and certify petitions.

3. Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by billionaire conservative donors David and Charles Koch, began airing pro-Walker television ads in the weeks before the recall campaign’s Nvember 15 launch.

4. The governor’s campaign committee this week launched a $300,000 advertising campaign to defend his policies—especially the attack on collective-bargaining rights that inspired mass demonstrations last February and March.

5. The Republican Party of Wisconsin has launched a so-called “Recall Integrity Center,” which seems to encourage intimidation of Wisconsinites gathering recall petition signatures.

For his part, the governor complains, “There are going to be some people out there who are going to want to reverse the course of the last election.”

But Walker was not always opposed to recall elections, and he did not always want to control and constrain them.

Walker was elected Milwaukee County Executive in a 2002 recall election.

In 2010, when he was running for governor, he hailed the process as democracy in action.

“You know the folks that were angry about this started a recall and they were told they needed to collect 73,000 signatures in sixty days,” said Walker. “Well, not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of ordinary people did an extraordinary thing. They stood up and took their government back. In less than thirty days they collected more than 150,000 signatures. It was at that moment I realized the real emotion on display in my county wasn’t just about anger. You see, if it had been about anger, it would have been about people checking out and moving out or giving up. But instead what happened was really amazing. You saw people standing up shoulder to shoulder, neighbor to neighbor and saying we want our government back. And in doing so the real emotion on display was about hope. Today I see a lot of the same emotions on display here in Wisconsin and all across our great country. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons to be angry.”

Once again, not hundreds, not thousands but tens of thousands of ordinary people are doing an extraordinary thing in Wisconsin. They are standing up and trying to take their government back.

It’s just that, now, Governor Walker appears to be trying to make it harder for others to do launch the sort of movement—and wage the sort of election fight—that he once celebrated.

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