UW–Platteville Political Science Prof. John Rink has a succinct description of the results of the first recall election of a governor and lieutenant governor in Wisconsin history.
“It seemed a little like a useless exercise to rerun the election with the exact same result,” said Rink, whose interest in politics dates back to presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. “In the end, there really wasn’t anything to it — in the end it was a waste of time and money.”
Gov. Scott Walker, who defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett with 52 percent of the vote in November 2010, defeated Barrett with 53 percent of the vote June 5. Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch defeated Democrat Mahlon Mitchell with 53 percent of the vote in the first vote for lieutenant governor independent of the gubernatorial election since 1968.
Grant and Lafayette counties’ results followed state results. Walker outpolled Barrett in Grant County 9,490–8,614, and in Lafayette County 3,887–2,994. Barrett won Iowa County 5,657–4,956. Kleefisch outpolled Mitchell in Grant County 9,148–8,547 and in Lafayette County 3,707–3,004, while Mitchell won in Iowa County 5,796–4,721.
Barrett outpolled Walker in three of Grant County’s cities — Boscobel, Cuba City and Platteville — as well as in the villages of Hazel Green, Montfort, Muscoda and Tennyson, and the towns of Boscobel, Hazel Green and Millville (37–36).
In Lafayette County, Barrett outpolled Walker in all three cities — Cuba City, Darlington and Shullsburg — and in Benton, Blanchardville and, by a 4–3 margin, the Lafayette County sliver of Hazel Green. Walker outpolled Barrett in every township except the Town of Blanchard, and that was by a one-vote margin.
In Iowa County, Walker outpolled Barrett only in the towns of Eden, Highland, Linden, Mifflin, Mineral Point, Pulaski and Waldwick and in the Iowa County part of Livingston, 2–1. Walker and Barrett tied in Montfort, 25–25.
Rink said the recall election was more about each party’s getting out its base than enthusiasm for the candidates.
While recalls are “woven into the fiber of the political culture” of Wisconsin, Rink said, “Neither one of the candidates is a particularly attractive political candidate. The issues that were involved here were very, very polarizing, but I don’t think they felt strongly about the candidates. Somebody had to move voters, and nobody really did.”
The recall electorate could be said to have been divided two ways in addition to hard-core Republicans and Democrats — Republican-leaning voters who opposed Walker, and Democratic-leaning voters who opposed recalling.
Rink said he talked to “a lot of Republicans” who liked neither Walker nor what Walker had done since becoming governor in 2011, but “I don’t think there were enough in either group,” including anti-recall Democrats, “to change the results of the election.”
Rink also doesn’t see the recall election as a fall harbinger. “I don’t think it was anything for or against Romney or Obama,” he said.
For those who didn’t like the tone of the election, or thought it had very little to do with issues, Rink said the gubernatorial recall was “like every election in the U.S. these days. It’s not about persuading anyone; it’s about getting out your base. The campaign itself is a big disappointment; it’s about beating the drum to getting your loyalists out on Election Day.”
In comparison to previous Wisconsin elections, though, he said, “It’s a little bit unprecedented. I don’t think it’s ever been this intense. And maybe we’ve exhausted ourselves and maybe we’ll be a little bit more temperate about the fall.”
Grant County’s legislators made conciliatory statements in the wake of the election.
“Now that the people of Wisconsin have cast their ballots and the results are in, it’s time to move forward together in order to focus on what’s most important to every citizen of Wisconsin — jobs and the economy,” said Rep. Travis Tranel (R–Cuba City) in a news release the night of the election. “We must re-dedicate ourselves to focusing on keeping Wisconsin moving forward. Every citizen in Wisconsin has a stake in building a brighter future for today and for our next generation. We are all in this together.”
“We, as legislators, must acknowledge people’s fear and perception the wheels are coming off the train when it comes to state and federal government,” said Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) in an opinion column issued before the election. “It’s our job to restore faith and trust, and the only way we do that is by showing people we hear them and act accordingly.”
Three of the four Republican senators facing recall elections June 5 won, but the loss of Sen. Van Wangaard (R–Racine) to former Sen. John Lehman (D–Racine) gives Democrats a 17–16 edge and puts Sen. Dale Schultz (R–Richland Center) into the minority party in the Senate. However, the Senate is not scheduled to meet before the Nov. 6 election.
The fall elections, which start with Republican and Democratic primaries Aug. 14, probably will be “more of the same,” said Rink. “It’s not going to change until the voters start reacting to the campaigns in a different way. The only reason we have campaigns like this is it works — it’s effective in getting the desired result. As a political scientist, I’m a little bit despairing of all this.”