Get to ringing those bells and sending those warning shots -- it's the start of recall season in Wisconsin. The first primary in those elections is happening today in the six Republican-held Senate districts.
Today's vote is especially interesting given the fake, "zombie" Democrats running against the actual Democratic challengers. The state GOP encouraged and endorsed these actual Republicans to run as spoiler candidates in order to 1) force primaries, thereby delaying the final recall elections long enough, they hope, to give the incumbents more time to organize and to deplete Democrat's energy, and 2) to possibly actually see the fake Dems win the primaries so they can then run half-assed campaigns against the incumbents.
We've seen clear evidence of the latter tactic in recently released flyers supporting zombie candidate John Buckstaff in his run against actual Democrat Jessica King in district 18 (where Sen. Randy Hopper currently holds office).
The flyers note that Buckstaff will "roll up his sleeves and work with Governor Walker to eliminate special privileges for government unions." Clearly it's not trying to hide the fact that he's a Republican in disguise -- and the hope is that Republicans in the district will turn out for the open primary to vote for him instead of King. Buckstaff would then, it can only be assumed, defer to Hopper in the final election.
What's especially perfect about the flyer is that it was funded by a group called Patriot Advisors, whose registration cites an address in the tiny town of Cobb, Wisconsin. Dig deeper into that particular rabbit hole, however, and a much more interesting picture quickly appears:
[Patriot Advisors] do their banking at Bank of America in Austin, Texas. According to the Shepard Express, not much information is available regarding Cobb's Patriot Advisors.
Something we do know about, thanks to Karoli at Crooks and Liars, is a conservative Texas group that shares the very same name and also banks in Austin. Coincidence, perhaps, but let's take a look at that organization anyway as it has many Texan tentacles (and Chicago and DC) that are all over Wisconsin. The Texas-based Patriot Advisors is run by Denis Calabrese and Tim Dunn. Below is how this flyer goes full circle.
1. Calabrese is also a former board member of the Sam Adams Alliance
2. The Sam Adams Alliance is a major funder of the Tea Party via it's training arm, American Majority. American Majority's Drew Ryan once estimated that 75 percent of American Majority's funding came from the Alliance
3. The Sam Adams Alliance and American Majority were the primary backers of the pro-Scott Walker rally in Madison on February 19.
4. Sam Adams Alliance founder and CEO Eric O'Keefe lives in Spring Green, Wis. (thanks to Abe Sauer of The Awl for this additional information - updated 2:30 p.m. 7/8/11). O'Keefe's home is a 30-minute drive to Cobb, Wis.
5. The Sam Adams Alliance provided a significant investment of funds to help start the Franklin Center for Government and Policy Integrity.
6. The Franklin Center is affiliated with the State Policy Network, which touts a long list of conservative think tanks, including Wisconsin's MacIver Institute, as members.
Why are all of these connections important? Note the quote on the flyer from a publication called the Wisconsin Reporter. That publication was founded by the Franklin Center in January of 2011.
Gov. Walker and his supporters liked to claim up and down that the protests at the capitol earlier this year were driven largely by out-of-state agitators, not good Wisconsinites -- which was manifestly not the case -- so I'd be curious to hear their thoughts on this actual, documented case of out-of-state agitation.
I'm not holding my breath, of course.
Meanwhile several newspaper editorial boards are suffering from the vapors over the very idea of so many recalls in so little time. First the Wisconsin State Journal published an editorial that described what they felt was the motivation for the recalls, sarcastically noting, "Don't like a single vote? Throw the bums out now!"
On Saturday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board followed suit, publishing a piece titled "The perpetual campaign." In it they decry the recall elections as the result of "the heat generated by a single issue."
It's a not uncommon criticism being lobbed at those who organized the recall drives -- that this whole messy affair is simply the result of people getting mad about one thing -- presumably that whole, unpleasant union-busting business -- and letting it override their good sense.
That line of reasoning grossly oversimplifies what's happening in Wisconsin right now.
Ask just about any person why they're energized to vote the Republican incumbents out of office and you're very likely to get a laundry list of complaints in reply. I did that very thing on Twitter yesterday and this is just a small sampling of what I got in return:
@whyihatepeople: Other issues as well -- cutting school funding, for one thing.
@danpotacke: Some worked their entire careers to see policy victories, only to see it reversed in 2011. A decade or more wiped away in 6 months.
@annelyttle: Everything boils down to widening the income gap & consolidating money/power in the hands of a few. Goes way beyond union-busting.
@bluecheddar1: IMO union power/rights shld be held dear & expanded-not contracted.Need worker rts. & lever against corporate power.
@JudeToche: I'm in favor of recalling people based on them attempting to f*ck over anyone making less than $250,000 per year.
@sagefeminist: Overreach. Strict party-line vote. Meaningless debate. Bullying. Consolidation of power. Kowtowing to billionaire corp interests.
@gnarlytrombone: It all comes back to the contempt for open government and blitzpolitik. They would've never been elected on this agenda.
@LightReading: ...violating open meetings law. gutting watershed/ lake protections, funding for bike trails, child labor laws...
And so on. Claiming that the recalls are being driven by just one issue not only misses the greater point, it also serves to delegitimize the efforts of tens of thousands of Wisconsinites -- making the token platitudes included in the editorials all the more transparently disingenuous.
The MJS piece also shows its hand when it makes sure to include a jab at the Democratic senators who fled to Illinois in order to delay the vote on the union-busting budget "repair" bill. While they call those actions a "clear abdication of duty" that "set a terrible precedent for political gamesmanship," the Republicans who violated open meetings laws to push through their unconstitutional provisions, among other things, get off with a mild "went too far and smacked of union-busting" tsk-tsk.
Of course these editorials are not the only examples of this line of argument. Plenty of GOP supporters are also making the claim that the recalls are just about a single issue, and that that makes them a bad idea.
The state GOP, meanwhile, appears to be nervous enough about these terrible, unnecessary recalls that they've decided to do the once-a-decade required redistricting a couple of months early, without any input from anyone else, and without waiting until municipalities had actually drawn their own ward lines first (which is usually how it's done).
Any changes made in the GOP redistricting plan, if passed (which is likely, given how Republicans have gone about pushing through votes in general this year), wouldn't take effect until the November elections -- so they wouldn't directly impact the senate recalls.
They would wreak some havoc in the GOP's favor, though. Upon digging through the maps released late last Friday afternoon I quickly discovered some serious shenanigans: Rep. Fred Clark, currently challenging Sen. Luther Olsen for his seat in District 14, would be redistricted into the 27th. Nancy Nusbaum, currently challenging Sen. Rob Cowles for his seat in District 2, would be redistricted into the 21st.
That would mean that, if they win the recall elections this year, they'd either have to move to within the new boundaries of their districts or step down entirely.
Furthermore, current Democratic Senator Robert Wirch will find that he's been redistricted out of his current home in the 22nd and into the 21st. According to the afore-linked article on The Daily Page, too, Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) would suddenly find herself in a different distract as well:
Under the proposed districts, Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) would end up being put in the neighboring 48th district, which has a special election next Tuesday to select its representative. But Roys says "The impact on individual legislators is not the issue, the issue is that residents in Wisconsin will not be able to make meaningful choices at the ballot box."
Perhaps most egregious of all, districts in general would be made more solidly Democrat or Republican, making races far less competitive. That may be good for politicians only interested in keeping their jobs, but it's no good for a public interested in a healthy democracy.
There's a whole lot more about the GOP redistricting plans and a lawsuit already filed against it over at the Blue Cheddar blog.
Get the skinny on all of the recall-related elections and candidates, polling places and more courtesy the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO blog.
The Journal-Sentinel's Daniel Bice recently spoke with a business leader from Sen. Cowles' district who says the senator told him in private conversation that he'd only voted for the budget "repair" bill after being threatened by the governor's office that they would run a tea party candidate against him if he didn't. Cowles' and Walker's spokespersons have so far denied the allegation.
A report prepared by the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Emergency Management and released under an open records request criticizes the Walker administration for its handling of the winter protests at the Capitol. It also appears to indicate that there may have, in fact, been significant social media monitoring by the government of the protests (see bottom of report page 11 -- "Telecommunications Emergency Response Team"). I had first received word that this might be happening in early June, but was never able to get further confirmation. This appears to be it.