With Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in Tuesday’s recall, the barrage of political ads and the constant door-knocking might be over, but the verdict is still out on whether life will truly return to normal in the Badger State.
A new reality settled over the state ever since February last year, when Walker first unveiled his legislation to sharply curtail collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Since then, the state has been ground zero for a nationalized fight pitting labor and progressives on one side, and conservative Republicans determined to slash government spending and roll back the public unions on the other.
Many in the state believe that it will take more than the end of the recalls to sew up the state’s wounds.
One roadblock on the path to reconciliation: the regularly scheduled November contests for president, U.S. Senate and the state legislature. In the recalls, Democrats narrowly took a one-seat majority in the state Senate — a majority that they will have to defend this November.
“I think reconciliation will be a long time coming,” said Marquette Law School political science professor Charles Franklin, who polled the race extensively, “but the conflict may move on to other arenas, especially the November legislative elections. And how Walker chooses issues next year, and budget matters, may affect the temperature of the state.”
For his part, Walker is extending an olive branch with a President Obama-style beer summit.
“We’re not gloating in the victory,” Walker said Wednesday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, at a public event with his cabinet after his victory the previous night. “We’re moving on.”
He also said he was inviting legislative leaders of both parties to a get-together, with some Wisconsin burgers, brats and beer.
State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, and the office of state Senate Democratic Leader Mark Miller, confirmed to TPM that the meeting is scheduled for this Tuesday. Barca, however, said that the meeting’s impact was being overstated, as all governors for decades have typically held get-togethers with legislators at the governor’s mansion.
But Barca did express hope that the divisions would begin to heal.
“The stories are rampant about, you know, people at family picnics that can’t even discuss politics,” Barca told TPM. “People have refused to talk to each other that are in the same family, at a family wedding.”
Barca said that it will take time for things to heal in the state — and he echoed that Walker’s actions, more than words and gestures, will go a long way toward determining how long the healing process will take. A lot will depend on “whether or not we see the end of this extreme type of social agenda, because i think that’s what makes people very divided,” he said.
Barca does, however, believe that the upcoming general election season will see a cooldown in tensions. “Recalls I think by their nature are much more contentious than regular elections, whether it’s Senate races or gubernatorial elections,” he Barca. “Recall elections with people, it just puts their backs to the wall. Elections certainly can be contentious, but I don’t think you’ll see the same level of divisiveness.”
John Hogan, chief of staff to state Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said that senators have not had much chance to interact with one another, with the legislature out of regular session.
“From what I can tell, people are pretty cordial, but you don’t have all 33 senators meeting face to face — and you won’t, at least for the rest of the year,” said Hogan. “So that’s going to have an impact on relations, good or bad I don’t know. But it is campaign season, and we don’t have committee hearings, for people talking to each other and working on bills. So right now there’s no forum for people to get together and chat about legislation or anything.”
Hogan does expect tensions to ease, at least for a while. “We have a few months with no political ads on TV, that’ll be helpful,” he said. “I think the electorate here is tired, and they’re looking for a grace period before they have to see any more ads this fall.”