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In Wisconsin, voters relieved long recall saga headed for finish

June 05, 2012|By Dan Hinkel, Chicago Tribune
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker prepares to cast his ballot at Jefferson School in the gubernatorial recall election in Wauwatosa, Wisc.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker prepares to cast his ballot at Jefferson School… (Tom Lynn / Getty Images )

Reporting from Delavan and Janesville, Wisc. As in much of the rest of  Wisconsin, yard signs show the rift in opinion about Gov. Scott Walker in his childhood hometown of Delavan.

Before he became the center of the hottest political debate in the state's recent memory, Walker was a pastor's son who went to high school in this city of about 8,000 near the border with Illinois.

At Ron's Barber Shop downtown, Ron Tesch said he wouldn't hazard a guess as to who will win the recall race, Walker or his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Tesch's profession as a barber makes him an informal pollster of sorts, but no clear winner has emerged from the data collected in his shop.

"I wouldn't want to bet on it," he said.

Like many others in this bitterly divided state, Tesch declined to say whom he voted for. He did recall letting Walker ride in the back of his convertible during a parade when Walker was in high school.

Dave Abell of Delavan also declined to discuss his vote, but he said the recall -- with its implications for unions, state employees and small business owners, among others -- has made it hazardous to discuss politics.

"You don't want to talk about it with your friends because you won't have friends anymore," he said.

Down the brown brick street from the barber shop, Gerry Mosher sat in his bookstore, Bibliomaniacs, where two cats slept on the counter. Mosher, from Rockford, said one of his employees exemplifies another common strain of thought.

She believes that, politics aside, it would be wrong to kick Walker out of office when he was fairly elected in 2010.

Earlier this morning, at 7, a poll worker at an elementary school in the southern Wisconsin city of Janesville cried, "Hear ye, hear ye, the polls are now open," kicking off voting in the contentious recall battle.

Voting preferences were mixed among the first voters, a line of 50 or so people at the gymnasium door of Janesville's Washington Elementary School. Near universal was relief that election day had arrived after months of a nasty political climate.

Outside the school doors, John Hesser, a 59-year-old professional automobile buyer, said he voted for Barrett because he felt Walker broke with a tradition of "above board" politics in Wisconsin. He noted a corruption probe that has resulted in criminal charges against several of Walker's aides and associates from when he was Milwaukee County's executive.

Hesser said he used to brag to his acquaintances in Chicago about Wisconsin's comparatively clean political reputation, but now, "It's almost embarrassing being [from Wisconsin]."

Mike Aldrich, a 43-year-old accountant from Walker's nearby hometown of Delavan, said that even though he was leery of Walker's aggressive tactics on unions, he voted to keep the governor. Aldrich said he believes open competition can help control governmental expenses, such as health insurance for employees.

"I liked what he did. I don't agree with how he did it," Aldrich said.

In Janesville — where a General Motors plant closed in 2008 — signs for one or the other candidate dotted front yards. Political ads for both candidates and news coverage of the race are inescapable on television. In spite of the rancorous recall, people in line to vote greeted neighbors cordially, exchanging information about local prep sports teams and commenting on the nice weather.

Local restaurateur and City Council member Matthew Kealy declined to reveal his voting choice. He said he was pleased that people were engaged politically, though he added, "I think everybody's ready to be done with 'robocalls' and fliers and hostility."

"It's very heated as far as who you support, what you support and why you support it," he said.

Most owners of small businesses in Janesville declined to display a sign signaling a preference for either candidate in Wisconsin's hard-battled recall election.

But a few made their views known.

A sign saying "We Stand With Scott Walker" sits in front of Briggs' White Oak Bar near the Rock River downtown.

"There are a couple people that don't come in," said bartender Sean Glynn, who noted the signs were the choice of owner John Briggs. "They won't come in until the sign's gone."

Dave Babcock displayed two huge signs favoring Walker, a Republican, on the lawn of his outdoor advertising business, Babcock Outdoor. He said Walker's policies have been good for the state's economy, and he didn't worry about a backlash.

"Our business is mostly business-to-business," he said. "Most business people I know are in favor of Walker."

A few miles down the road, signs for Walker's opponent, Barrett, were on display outside Tremors Bar and Grill and Eagle Inn Family Restaurant, though the owners were not around to explain the choice.

Those businesses sit within sight of the local headquarters of the United Auto Workers, a force in Janesville because of the General Motors plant that operated for decades before closing in 2008. There, signs for Barrett joined one reading, "Only union-built vehicles assembled in the U.S.A. or Canada are allowed to park on the premises."

Just down the street at the Union Labor Temple, union leaders coordinated election day efforts while a TV played news of the race. Workers from private unions worry Walker's efforts to limit the rights of public unions telegraph tougher measures to come against all unions, they said.

"First, they attack the public unions because they can govern their way out of that," said Ivan Collins, a Rock County board member and official with a local machinists union. "This is just a start."

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