Walking Tall: Wis. Governor Cool in Face of Recall

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MADISON Wis. -- On June 5, the eyes of the country will be on the state of Wisconsin, where voters will decide whether Scott Walker should be recalled as governor of their state.

It's only the third time in American history this has happened to a sitting governor. The vote is expected to be very close.

But Walker remains ever confident.

"I don't plan on losing. I'm going to run a campaign to win," he told CBN News. "I'm hoping I get the truth out and ultimately convince enough voters in this state to honor me with their vote again like they did in 2010, but I'm not afraid to lose."

At issue is Walker's attempt to rein in spending and repair a $3.6 billion budget deficit.

However, it caused liberals and others to storm Wisconsin's Capitol with frustration. His efforts effectively took away the ability for most public unions to bargain collectively and forced state workers to contribute more to their pensions and healthcare costs.

But Walker said an out-of-control budget requires tough choices and courage.

"What I have heard for years are voters saying to me, 'I get sick and tired of these people getting elected to office and then when they get there, they don't have the courage, they don't have the guts to take on these issues,' Walker told CBN News. "I think people are hungry for leadership."

Calling for Walker's Head

Now liberals like Graeme Zielinski, communications director for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, are hungry to see him gone. They've accused him of union busting, being a bully, and forcing a deeply conservative agenda on a moderate state.

"Scott Walker has taken us way too far to the right," Zielinski charged.

Zielinski helped organize the recall. They only needed 500,000 signatures, but they got nearly 1 million.

"That happened in 60 days, in the middle of Christmas season, in the middle of winter, in the middle of Packers season where it's very difficult to do this stuff," Zielinski noted.

"And it was the greatest petition drive in American history precisely because people in Wisconsin are offended by this 'my-way-or-the-highway' approach that Scott Walker is using," he said.

When Walker goes to work every day at the state Capitol in Madison there are others who go to work too -- namely a group of singing protestors, called the Solidarity Sing-Along.

They've been demonstrating at the capitol every day for over a year.

In liberal Madison, the sing-along is like being at a modern-day Woodstock, with pro-union forces crooning about sticking together and giving Walker the pink slip.

"There is frustration, there's anger and confusion and people on both sides are upset with the divide in our state," Solidarity Sing-Along leader Chris Reeder told CBN News.

"And so this is a great way for people to come together and turn it around a little bit. I really believe in positive solutions," he said.

Walker's opponents are not just singing, they're dropping boatloads of cash -- especially big national unions. Walker estimated that when all is said and done, they'll spend about $60 million.

"I think clearly they want to defeat me, take me out on June 5," Walker said.

"I may be anti-big government union bosses because I think, in the past, one of our problems has been they've been the ones calling the shots instead of the hard-working taxpayers in the state of Wisconsin," he explained. "I put the power back in the hands of the taxpayers."

Walker Garners Nat'l Support

Walker is also accumulating a significant war chest and it's not just coming from voters in Wisconsin. People from all over the country are donating.

The fight is shaping up as a major ideological battle.

"I think it's a reflection that no matter what, the level that people understand what's at stake, and they understand what's really our opposition," the governor told CBN News.

That's why the Tea Party is heavily involved in fighting the recall. Ross Brown, who is with a group called We the People of Wisconsin, helped create a database showing the names of those who signed the recall petition. It turns out that local TV news anchors and judges signed it.

Brown explained that his main goal in creating the database was to ensure a transparent process. But he also said charges that Walker is a Tea Party-type governor who doesn't care about people is all wrong.

"We're debating as a nation … the appropriate function of government," Brown told CBN News. "As a Tea Partier I can be accused of many things, but believe it or not, I don't want to see people out dying in the streets."

The topic of conversation is now centered on jobs and whether Walker has actually been an effective governor.

In this divided state, both sides claim they have the numbers on their side.

Supporters note that under Walker, the unemployment rate is down from a year ago: 6 percent this March compared to 7.6 percent last March.

But opponents point out that it was only in the first two months of this year that Wisconsin started gaining jobs, roughly 20,000. Walker had promised to create 250,000 jobs during his time as governor.

"There have been some in the media here who say, 'Why don't you have 250,000 jobs?' Well, it's 250,000 jobs by 2015," Walker said.

"What we did was turn things around," he continued. "[In] 2008, 2009, 2010 we lost 150,000 private sector jobs. In 2011, we leveled that off and now we're in a progressive increase the last two months."

However, in March the job numbers took another dip. The state lost more than 4,000 private sector jobs while most states were gaining jobs, giving his critics more ammunition.

"Look, Scott Walker has done a really neat and weird trick that we don't like in that he's managed to keep Wisconsin losing, or negative jobs, while the rest of the nation has been adding jobs," Zielinski said.

A Matter of Character

Voters will ultimately decide Walker's fate, and their calculation won't just be about job creation. It will boil down to whether they see him as a governor who had the courage to tackle tough budget issues and stand up to the unions or as a hard-charging ideologue who overstepped his authority.

"I think it is one of those tipping points, not just here in Wisconsin, but in America, where we say, 'Who is really in charge?'" Walker said.

"Do we want people who stand up with the hard-working American people who pay taxes making decisions at the local and the state level by people who are duly elected by the citizens at that jurisdiction?" he asked. "Or do we want a handful of big government union bosses continuing to call the shots?"

"And that, to me, is really what it's about," he concluded.

But what if Walker is recalled?

"I think it sets aside any kind of courage in American politics for at least a decade, if not a generation, and that's why I say all the time, that's why we can't fail," the governor said.

It's clear a lot of people are hoping Walker fails. Yet as a preacher's kid, Walker has remained firm in his deep belief in Jesus.

He said he knows God's got everything under control, no matter what happens.

"All this is just a temporary thing and God's got a plan for us that, who knows where it might be, beyond just serving as governor of this state," he said.

"But if we stay true to that, there's always comfort," he said. "And God's grace is always abundant no matter what you do."

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CBN News
David Brody

David Brody

CBN News Chief Political Correspondent

David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.