After a more than a year and a half of political turmoil, Wisconsinites have their chance today to vote in a historic recall election. By the end of the day, the state should know if Governor Scott Walker will be allowed to finish his term in office, or if Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will replace him.
It started in February of last year, when Governor Walker introduced a budget adjustment bill that included rolling back collective bargaining for most public employees. Walker argued the change was needed to help government deal with a growing state budget deficit and to give local governments the tools they need to cut costs without having to make massive layoffs. Opponents argued it was nothing more than a power grab and an attack on Walker’s political enemies.
The divisive proposal sparked an overwhelming response from unions and their supporters, as thousands of people flooded Madison and the Capitol building with nearly a month of non-stop protests. Senate Democrats left the state to prevent passage of the bill, while Republicans eventually used a procedural move to push through a vote on just the collective bargaining changes.
The controversy spilled over into a Supreme Court race and resulted in nine state senators facing recalls last summer. Of those, two Republican lawmakers lost their seats.
Then in November, a year after Walker was elected governor, Democrats launched the effort to recall him. In January, they turned in nearly one million signatures. Papers filed at that time were also enough to initiate the recalls of Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and four more GOP state Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).
Following months of review and a four-way primary, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett emerged as the Democratic candidate. The outcome set up a rematch of the 2010 election, when Walker first defeated Barrett to win the governor’s office.
Barrett has pledged to “end the civil war in Wisconsin” that has deeply divided the state. Walker argues his reforms are working and he should be allowed to finish out his term. The decision now rests in the hands of voters, who head to the polls today to decide if Walker should become only the third governor in the U.S. to be recalled from office.
AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:26)