Wisconsin 'Ground Zero' of Battle to Reshape America

Saturday, 02 Apr 2011 01:12 PM

By David A. Patten

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The fate of the grass-roots push to limit government growth in America hinges on who wins several pitched battles that continue to escalate in Wisconsin, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and other leading conservatives are warning.

Those melees include recall clashes, high-stakes elections, union campaign scuffles and intense courtroom dramas that have escalated in the Badger State since Gov. Scott Walker set out to cut public-sector entitlements to salvage the state budget.

On Friday, Democrats submitted petitions with more than 20,000 signatures to initiate a recall election against state GOP Sen. Dan Kapanke. Republicans say it’s a blatant effort to punish Kapanke for supporting Walker’s efforts.

Organized labor has poured more than $3 million into Wisconsin to underwrite both the massive recall campaign and a key state Supreme Court election that will be decided April 5.

“Wisconsin is ground zero for the country,” Tea Party Express founder Sal Russo, Scott Walker, Wisconsin, Unions, Tea Party ExpressSal Russo tells Newsmax. “This is the left’s last stand to turn back the tide of what conservatives have been trying to do in the country over the last two years. So we can’t fail there -- it’s ground zero.

“Liberals are trying to say, ‘Even if conservatives win the elections, as we did in a lot of states in 2010, we’ll be able to frustrate and stop them and make it so difficult for them that nobody else will run like that in other states.

“It will bring an end to this conservative tea party revolution that we’ve seen over the last two years,” Russo warns. “That’s their goal: Not just to win in Wisconsin, but to stamp out the tea party movement and fiscal conservatives all over the country. They want to set an example in Wisconsin so that we’ll stop trying in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and the other states.”

In light of those high stakes, Tea Party Express is airing television ads and a get-out-the-vote campaign on behalf of state Supreme Court Justice David T. Prosser Jr., who is up for re-election Tuesday.

Conservatives on the court, including Prosser, hold a 4-3 advantage over the court’s liberal justices. But if the unions succeed in getting environmental activist JoAnne Kloppenburg elected instead, Democrats will seize control of the court.

That could be critical, because the court is expected to rule on a wave of legal challenges coming from opponents of Walker’s controversial budget-repair bill.

What the skirmishes in Wisconsin ultimately may decide is whether reforms such as those the Republican governor has championed are politically viable or carry too high a price tag at the ballot box. A recent Rasmussen Reports survey shows that Walker’s popularity with voters has taken a significant hit since he rolled out his plan to balance Wisconsin’s budget. According to that March survey, 48 percent of Wisconsin voters now say they “strongly disapprove” of Walker’s performance.

One sign of the growing national importance of the donnybrook in Wisconsin: Palin weighed in on Thursday, posting an endorsement of Prosser on her Facebook page. “Wisconsin, please remember to vote for Justice Prosser on April 5,” she wrote.

Russo says of Palin: “She’s been a big help in crystallizing the issues for Americans. She’s done it consistently and did it again yesterday with her endorsement.”

Prosser also has the endorsement of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper. But Russo tells Newsmax that Republicans, who perhaps thought the battle against union entitlements had already been won in Wisconsin, are playing catch-up in the contest. More information on the fight over the fate of the state’s Supreme Court is available at TeaPartyExpress.org.

“These statewide elections are notorious for very low voter turnout,” Russo tells Newsmax. “So the motivated voters will make the decision. And right now we’ve been fearful that the motivated voters have been the left-wing unions and their supporters in the state. So that’s the biggest fear we have: That the people of Wisconsin are on our side, but the people who vote on Tuesday aren’t on our side.”

In response, Russo’s organization is handing out phone lists that conservative activists are using to contact Wisconsin conservatives and urge them not to be complacent, and to turn out and vote.

Tuesday’s campaign is just one front in the ongoing battles over collective-bargaining rights and public-worker entitlements in Wisconsin. Other elements include:
  • GOP State Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, Wis., has asked prosecutors to investigate a union campaign that threatened to boycott businesses who fail to actively oppose Walker’s initiatives. Letters circulated by AFSCME Council 24 to local businesses state: “Failure to do so will leave us no choice but [to] do a public boycott of your business. And sorry, neutral means ‘no’ to those who work for the largest employer in the area and are union members.” Jim Haney, outgoing head of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce organization, told the Journal Sentinel: “It’s kind of like the old protection racket.”
  • In addition to Kapanke, as many as 15 other senators could face recall elections in Wisconsin. It does not appear that there will be enough support to qualify for a recall challenge against the eight Democrats eligible for recall who fled the state in a bid to thwart Walker’s bid to limit the collective bargaining power of public-employee unions, Russo says. A recent poll by liberal The Daily Kos shows a generic Democrat leading Kapanke by 55 percent to 41 percent.
  • On Friday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi denied the state’s request to stop a hearing on whether a preliminary injunction should be granted to block Walker’s budget reform law. On Thursday, Sumi ruled that the law had not begun to take effect and therefore could be subject to an injunction.
  • The key question in the lawsuit against Walker’s reforms, which could be headed to the state’s Supreme Court for a final adjudication soon, is whether the sudden passage of the measure violated the state’s open-meetings statute. Rob Marchant, Wisconsin’s chief clerk, testified Friday that it is a common practice in the state for meetings to occur with less than the normal 24-hour notice requirement. Wisconsin’s open-meetings law required advance notice of all public sessions. But legislative rules can prevail over those rules, when the meeting involves committees of the Legislature, sources say.

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