Wisconsin election about more than governor recall
HEAVILY PREGNANT with her third child, 36-year-old Elizabeth Ziemer lumbers back into the living room and drops the pile of letters on to the coffee table. “A lot of them are just like this,” she says, pulling a note from an envelope. “You better watch out. I mean it,” is scrawled on the unsigned, handwritten note.
Last November, Ziemer and her husband Cale (38), a businessman, held a petition-signing in the driveway of their wooden bungalow, across the street and four doors down from Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s modest home on 68th Street in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee. Their petition was part of a Democratic drive to recall Walker. More than 900,000 signatures were collected, in a state of 5.5 million, and Walker faces a recall election pitting him against Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor, Tom Barrett, on June 5th.
If he loses, Walker will be only the third governor in US history to be recalled.
The Ziemers began receiving hate mail soon after their name appeared in the newspaper in connection with the recall petition. “As a state and a nation, we are behaving like teenagers who don’t want any discipline,” says one of the more polite letters. “COMMON SENSE HAS GOT TO BE THE RULE OF THE DAY IF OUR GREAT COUNTRY IS TO SURVIVE,” it concludes, in capital letters.
“We told the police about the letters. They said they couldn’t do anything,” says Mrs Ziemer, a web designer with the face of a Madonna. “It doesn’t worry me a ton, just when my husband is out of town for the night.”
Mrs Ziemer says she was shocked by Walker’s sudden proposal, on February 11th, 2011, to annul laws dating from 1959 and 1967 that granted collective bargaining rights to city and state employees.
“He never mentioned anything like that when he ran for office. That’s a pretty big thing to spring on people,” she says.
In a telephone conversation with a hoaxter pretending to be David Koch, a billionaire benefactor of right-wing causes, Walker recounted a dinner with his cabinet on the evening of February 10th, 2011. “It was kind of the last hurrah, before we dropped the bomb,” Walker told the Koch impersonator. Walker compared his attack on the unions to Ronald Reagan breaking the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981. “This is our time to change the course of history,” he said.
The bright flags and lawn signs on 68th Street give it a deceptively festive air. Window shades are drawn and most residents won’t answer their doors. Deb (59), a physician and a neighbour of the Ziemers, has an “I Stand With Scott Walker” sign on her lawn, flanked by “Recall Walker” signs to either side. “We have to combat our neighbours,” jokes her husband, Jack. They don’t want to give their family name.
“We don’t discuss the election because we want to stay neighbourly and the way to stay neighbourly is not to discuss it,” Deb summarises the situation. She has also ceased talking politics with her divided family. “I don’t believe it’s in taxpayers’ interest to be haggling with public sector unions,” Deb says in defence of Walker. “The public sector has a pretty good time of it. Their hours are short. The unions engender laziness.”