Wisconsin Democrats certainly couldn't have predicted that they would be the epicenter of pushback against the extreme agenda of the corporate right, but they have already been successful in winning two state senate recall elections in redder districts and are poised to take advantage of the grassroots energy throughout the state to deliver more victories in the months ahead.
As you will see, the peculiarities of Wisconsin law give a major financial advantage to Walker and his allies. To help fix this imbalance, you can donate here to our Wisconsin Recall Fund.
The interview is below the fold.
I became chair in June of 2009. Obviously, it was a rough time. But prior to that, I had worked on different political campaigns and other progressive nonprofits for the past twelve years. I started out as a college kid helping to organize students for Democratic campaigns. I worked on a governor's race, and for a labor union. I ran a same-sex marriage initiative, and ran a large independent expenditure field program for that. After 2008, I was looking for what was next, and it was suggested to me by some of the people who worked for then-Governor Doyle that I should run for Party Chair.
I bet you didn't expect to be at the forefront of the national debate right now.
This is not what I anticipated when I became party chair in June of '09. It's not even what we anticipated a year ago when we went through the occupation of the Capitol, the Senators leaving. It has been an incredible, exciting, stressful, but historic ride.
Where are we in this recall process?
It will likely be made official a week from Friday, but we are likely to have elections scheduled next week. The primary will will be May 8, and the general election will be June 5.
What does the polling look like right now?
The polling has been fairly encouraging. The last poll that was out had both County Executive Kathleen Faulk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett leading Scott Walker. Walker continues to have a negative job approval rating, and continues to have a majority of voters pretty inclined to fire him from his current job.
We had the situation before where we took back two of the Senate seats, but didn't get a majority. What's going on in terms of the upcoming Senate recalls?
The important thing is that we have four state senate recall elections happening. These are all districts that have substantially better Democratic performance than the recall races that we had last year. These are substantially better districts, all but one, and we need just one seat to take back the majority. There has been no public polling, but our internal polling has shown that we have a strong path to victory in every race. We feel confident that we have great candidates, that we'll have a good chance of winning.
How does the recall election work in the senate seat where the senator resigned?
This is in the Wassau area of central Wisconsin. What happened here is that the senator in question, Pam Galloway, resigned because of health concerns in her family. This is a real story, not something fabricated. We feel confident that we have a fantastic candidate there who is a current member of the State Assembly from that district, Donna Seidel. The Republicans will be running a state representative, Jaret Petrowski, from that area. This puts us in a stronger position to win that seat right now.
So there is going to be, in addition to a Democratic primary, there will be a Republican primary?
We don't know if there's going to be a Democratic primary at all. The question is whether the Republicans will pull the maneuver they did last time and run fake Democrats to prolong the process.
Explain more about that process for readers who may not be as familiar.
First, if there's no primary, the recall election procedure is only six weeks long. So in the state senate races, the general election will be May 8 if no primary opponents file. What the Republicans did last time was elongate the race because they figured their biggest advantage was money. So they wanted to prolong it and spend us down. So in all of the six districts where we were recalling Republicans, they recruited a fake Democrat--a Republican who was willing to appear on the ballot, collect signatures and run in the primary. Then the Republicans ran a turnout operation to drive out the vote for them.
You mentioned finances. Can you talk about the quirky rules that are in place for these recalls?
It's a total quirk of the law. The individual being targeted for recall does not have to adhere to our fundraising limits, which are pretty strict. They're allowed to raise unlimited money from individuals and PACs. We've seen Scott Walker pull in half a million for Bob Perry, who just gave $3 million to Mitt Romney's super-PAC. We was a funder of Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. So we've got some of these Republicans taking money from some pretty bad actors.
They've accused you of trying to raise money from outside the state. Is that a bit hypocritical?
Not only is it hypocritical, it's actually comical. Scott Walker has spent more time in the last few months outside of the state raising money for the campaign as he has inside it. The majority, overwhelming majority are from the state, but we have a lot of grassroots donors from around the country who have been giving us twenty, thirty dollars at a time. Some live in Los Angeles, some are from Denver, some live--we have people from every state in the country giving us money.
Let's say that the recalls are successful, we have a Democratic governor in June, and Democratic control of the Senate. Walker and Fitzgerald have managed to do a lot of damage. How do you repair that if the State Assembly is still in Republican hands?
We have a long road back. It's important that the story doesn't get written that if we win on June 5, all the problems are solved. It's a long road back to fix the damage that Scott Walker and his allies have done in a little over a year. The biggest opportunities for repairing these breaches well come in the next state budget, which is the only bill that the state legislature actually has to pass. And we'll see strong moves toward restoring collective bargaining rights and repealing these dogmatic anti-Wisconsin laws that have come into existence in the last year.
What are the odds, since people haven't been focusing on this, that Democrats can capture the State Assembly in November?
Let me say this: I think we have a great shot at taking it back. I think that especially if we take back the Senate, that a lot of time and energy and resources can be focused on the Assembly. We're working hard on recruiting good candidates and a lot of people have been inspired by the citizen activism that we've seen in the past year and have stepped forward. I feel optimistic about our chances at taking back the State Assembly.
Ever since the state capitol in Madison got occupied, it seems like Wisconsin has turned into the epicenter of Democratic activism and people power. How do you maintain that and keep that going after November if Walker is recalled, you re-elect Barack Obama and have him win Wisconsin--how do you keep it going?
This is been the most incredible story of this whole thing. When we, the people of Wisconsin, embarked on these Senate recall elections last summer, people questioned whether we would have the ability to recall these senators. But the people were incredibly enthusiastic and fired up, but we had to wait until was in office for a year. And people said that the Senate recalls are one thing, but you can't recall Walker, you can't keep this energy going, this momentum, this enthusiasm. And two things happened. One, Scott Walker and [Senate Majority Leader] Fitzgerald continued to make laws that are absolutely offensive to anyone who cares about this state, and looks at the state the way we do. And the momentum grew. We have more people involved now than were involved when we occupied the capitol. We've had tens and tens of thousands of people from all across the state get involved. A million people signed the recall petition. We feel pretty good about our ability to maintain momentum, and it's something we'll keep working on.
How can people who aren't in Wisconsin help with this effort?
There are two or three things that can be done. One is obvious: we could use financial help. People can give online. Sign up for our email alerts. Stay in the loop. The other side has the Koch brothers, and Bob Perry. We done have big donors writing us six-figure checks. We have thousands of small donors giving us fifteen or twenty dollars at a time. The second is, if you have any friends or family in Wisconsin, please reach out to them, talk to them. Please get out the votes for our nominees. And third, there are going to be a number of programs where people who don't live in Wisconsin but want to call voters will be able to do that through out website, and we've had a lot of success with that in the past. It's reaching out to people you know, giving a little bit of your hard-earned money. Or you can get down and dirty and talk to voters.
One last thing on this: the voter ID law. What's the status on that, and how could it affect this race?
Wisconsin passed what many have said is the most regressive photo ID law in the country, which is saying something, considering South Carolina and Alabama and some of these regressive Southern states. But our law is pretty extreme. About two weeks ago, though, we won a big court case where a state judge said that the photo ID law violated the Wisconsin constitution, and he permanently enjoined the law. So today, the law is not valid. However, our Republican Attorney General, at Scott Walker's insistence, is vigorously appealing that decision. We have a conservative majority on our Supreme Court. The best justices the Chamber of Commerce can buy! And I'm concerned that it's possible and probable that this law could be back in place for the recall elections.
Now, this law allows people to use gun ID's to vote, but not government-issued student ID's?
You cannot use tech school ID's, and there are restrictions around the student ID's as well.
Is that intentionally designed to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning constituencies?
That's all this bill is. There is no voter fraud in Wisconsin. In fact, Wisconsin has one of the highest participation rates of any state in the country. How our laws were a year ago should be a model for the nation. We have same-day voter registration. We have the ability to vouch for someone if they can't offer identification on them. We have a system of laws that was designed to enhance participation and provide no barrier or impediment to voting, and the Republicans didn't like that because they can't win elections when everyone votes. It turns out, more people are Democrats than Republicans. So the first chance they got, the decided to restrict the ability of minorities, restrict the ability of college students, of seniors as well, to vote. It's appalling and it's un-American.