OTR Interviews

The Wisconsin recall: A long, timultuous odyssey

A look at the Wisconsin recall's long, tumultous journey and potential impact


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 1, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: For the next hour, you will go behind the scenes of the Wisconsin election recall. You will hear from all four candidates. You will meet the Tea Partiers who have traveled far and wide to make their voices heard in this historic election.

And Democratic minority leader Peter Barca, who says his side is energized. You will hear from Karl Rove on how you the Wisconsin battle will impact the presidential election. And Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan will tell you why he thinks this is the second most important election of the year.

Welcome to our special "On the Record," "The Wisconsin Recall."

First up, Craig Gilbert of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel joins us. Nice to see you, Craig.


VAN SUSTEREN: OK, take me back to how this all started. This is the first time that Wisconsin's had a recall for governor, right?

GILBERT: Yes, it's only the third time in American history this had happened. It happened when Governor Walker was swept into office along with a Republican legislature in the wave election of 2010, and then surprised a lot of people by announcing that he was going to curb collective bargaining for public employees, something that wasn't an expected move and created a furor on the left and among labor, set off protests and now recalls.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, now, did he ever say that in the race, that he intended to do that, or did it catch everyone by surprise? When was running for office, for governor, did he say, This is what I'm to do?

GILBERT: No. He talked about concessions by unions and public employees, but he didn't talk about going after collective bargaining rights and union certification the way he did. It really was a shock, including to some people in his own party.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, so -- and in the midst of all this, I guess to add more drama to it, a number of Democratic senators decided to hit the road when there was going to be this vote on this collective bargaining statute.

GILBERT: Yes, that was the other big surprise. They went to Illinois. And in retrospect, I think people in both parties thought it was a smart tactic because it elevated this whole battle. It could have been a two or three day-battle and then forgotten, but it resulted in a protracted impasse and it just kind of raised the temperature. And then you had hundreds of thousands of people protesting, and that led to the recall movement, and more recalls than any state has ever seen in history.

VAN SUSTEREN: So a lot of enthusiasm, a ton of enthusiasm. I mean, we -- I mean, I was out there, saw people taking over the state capitol, and we see the videotape of people, and it was extraordinary. Who won? I mean, not talking about the recall, but the collective bargaining battle.

GILBERT: Well, the governor won. I mean, he had the power to implement his agenda. He got it done. The unions have had to live with changes that not only, I think, create less incentive for employees to join unions because they can't really collective bargain very much, but also made it harder for unions to survive.

I mean, they have to recertify themselves every year. They can't deduct union dues. This battle is still being waged in court, but it was a huge setback for the unions.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of the actual application of what has happened, is -- is the -- are the communities better off fiscally or not? I mean, or is it too soon so see how this has sort of shaken out in terms of its economic impact?

GILBERT: Yes, this is at the core of the debate in the gubernatorial recall election is -- and it is kind of early. I mean, we know a little bit, and the experience varies from city to city and community to community. It kind of depends on what kind of state aid those places were getting. It depends on whether they signed contracts before the collective bargaining rules were changed or not.

But this is really the nub of the issue, is the legacy that the governor's leaving behind for schools and for taxpayers.

VAN SUSTEREN: Where are the unions now? I mean, they supported the candidate from Dane County in the primary, Ms. Falk.


VAN SUSTEREN: She didn't make it. So now are they out and supporting the mayor, Mayor Tom Barrett, in the race? Do you see them around?

GILBERT: Yes, they're not -- they're not mailing it in. I mean, they're out there working. They've very motivated to try to recall the governor. I mean, he's their enemy. And so they're working hard.

You know, there's been some division at different levels within the union movement and within the Democratic Party over the tactics, over how to do this and whether it was the right thing to do or not. But they're working and they're fighting to try to put -- send the governor home.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a sense of the enthusiasm? I mean, you look at protesters and you can tell people are really hot or really enthusiastic.


VAN SUSTEREN: Then you look at the numbers of the people who came out during the primary, whether it's to pick the Democratic candidate or whether it was signing the recall petition. Do you get the same sort of sense that the level of enthusiasm you saw a year ago by the Democrats was there at the primary?

GILBERT: Well, you know, June 5th will answer this question for us, but it's a real question. I mean, we know the intensity is there on the Republican side, I mean, the way people turned out for Scott Walker in a token primary.

It's a long time for Democrats and for people in the union movement to keep that fire burning. I mean, this has been going on for 15 months. So I think there'll be heavy turnout. I think both sides are energized. But in terms of who has the energy, who has the turnout advantage, we're going to find out on June 5th.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you feel the sense of -- you know, during a campaign, if there are a lot of signs up and people are knocking on doors, you can really feel sort of the energy. Is there -- I mean, do you -- do you have that sort of heavy energy in this race, or people have a little fatigue?

GILBERT: Well, I think some people definitely have fatigue. I mean, this has been going on for a long time. Wisconsinites -- some Wisconsinites are going to be voting six times this year. Is there recall fatigue? I mean, there were legislative recalls last summer. There's another round of four, along with the gubernatorial recall.

The state elections board is predicting a huge turnout, almost at presidential levels. And so if that happens, there won't be recall fatigue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Craig, thank you.

GILBERT: It's a pleasure.