MADISON — Gov. Scott Walker may have avoided the word “recall” during his 37-minute State of the State speech Wednesday, but the reality that the state’s Republican leader is likely to face the dreaded “r” word was audible and visible everywhere else in the Capitol.
An hour before Walker entered the Assembly chamber, paper banners spelling out the word “Recall” were hung from the first-floor balcony. That was in addition to a large, bright sign reading “Recall” that Walker critics were parading around the Capitol.
Jim Murray, a self-employed attorney from Madison who says he protests at the Capitol five to seven days a week, stood in the center of the rotunda holding a sign that read “Walker’s Final State of the State Address.“
“Go count the recall petitions,” Murray says of the number of Wisconsin residents with unfavorable views against the governor. “The signatures speak for themselves.“
Walker’s speech came eight days after United Wisconsin, a grass-roots organization created to recall him, and the Wisconsin Democratic Party turned in more than 1 million signatures to trigger a recall election. Only 540,208 signatures were needed.
In his State of the State speech a year ago after the wave of Republican victories in the November 2010 elections that saw the GOP take over all branches of state government, Walker asserted that voters had handed Republicans a mandate for change.
But that alleged mandate quickly divided the state, beginning on Feb. 11 when Walker introduced a bill to roll back most collective bargaining rights for public employees. Substantial cuts in state aid to public education and health care further proved to be unpopular moves with many state residents.
During his speech this year, which many Democratic lawmakers dubbed the “state of denial and state of illusion,” Walker reiterated how the Republicans’ actions eliminated the state’s $3.6 billion budget deficit. “We are turning things around,” he said. “We are heading in the right direction.“
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, agreed Walker has changed the state’s direction. “He has turned the state around,” she said. “But in the wrong direction.“
At five separate moments during his speech, protesters stood up in the balcony and yelled loudly, once calling Walker a “liar” and another time saying “You don’t care about poor people.“
The outbursts didn’t appear to rattle Walker, and Republican lawmakers on the chamber floor and others in the balcony were quick to jump to their feet and clap as the protesters were escorted by police from the chamber.
Walker ran for governor on a campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs during his first term in office. After the speech Wednesday night, Democratic lawmakers and others were quick to pounce on the fact that the state has lost 35,000 jobs in the past six months. The state’s job losses led the nation in that time period.
“It sounded more like a ‘State of Illusion’ speech,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller, D-Monona. “He failed to mention the jobs lost since his budget passed. His speech was misrepresentative of the state of our state.“
As for the governor’s policies that have led to the expected recall election, Margaret Rigney, 79, who joined the protesters at the Capitol Wednesday, says it has been “one thing after another” with Walker.
“He has lots of out-of-state millions supporting him. But I’ve made up my mind,” the former state worker said. “Enough is enough.“