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What will Wisconsin Democrats do if their recall dreams come true?
Reversing Republican laws

Credit:Alexei Vella

Call it a Democrat do-over. If state Senate recalls go the way Democrats hope on Aug. 9 and 16, much of Gov. Scott Walker's agenda could be halted. In fact, given a few more months, it could even be reversed.

"If the Senate goes Democrat - and I think quite honestly there's a chance right now, it's all on turnout - if we're successful, I think there will be a serious effort to recall the governor," says state Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison). "Then, of course, if that is successful, we would be on our way to making some changes."

In all, six Republican and three Democratic senators will have faced recall elections by Aug. 16. If Democrats gain three seats, they'll retake control of the state Senate. The Republicans would still control the Assembly 60 to 38, with one independent.

So what is possible for Democrats if their dreams come true?

"We can put a dam to the erosion of the Wisconsin view on things," says Risser.

The earliest petitions can be filed for the recall of Walker is Jan. 3, 2012. With a new governor in place, and the Senate in Democratic hands, collective bargaining, shared revenue, school funding, Medicaid, aid for the arts and public library systems - all could be reconsidered, says Risser.

"I don't think there's going to be an out-and-out repeal of everything [Walker] did, but what's going to happen is we're going to revisit the areas of his most egregious activities, and, I think, moderate to a degree," says Risser.

But if the Democrats don't win the Senate in August, Risser says, "I have to think the recall efforts on the governor are not viable."

Walker may already be feeling the heat. A University of Wisconsin Survey Center poll released July 13 found that 59% of state residents disapprove of his performance; 56% also disapprove of the performance of his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature.

Gov. Walker's office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Elsewhere, the governor has said he's unconcerned about polling. Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), the Assembly's Democratic minority leader, isn't so sure.

If Democrats do gain the majority in the Senate, Barca says, "I think he must know that his days could be numbered. Not that they would be, but that they very well could be. So I think that he could take a more moderating approach at that time. But so far in the Assembly he's proven to be about as ultra-conservative as he can possibly be."

As for getting his Republican peers in the Assembly to moderate, Barca feels that it would take a dramatic event for them to even consider a more bipartisan approach.

"It's hard to imagine really that much would be reversed, to be very frank - unless the Senate flipped, and especially if the governor were recalled," he says. "Then I think a lot of these new members might say, 'Hey, what am I doing here?'"

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) doesn't see that happening. He's sure that voters will appreciate the Republican agenda in time.

"If you want to spend more money, it either means raising taxes or going back to dishonest accounting," he says. "I think that - the more it gets out there - Gov. Walker will not be recalled."

No one at the Capitol is exactly waiting around for the August recalls. The Republican-controlled Legislature is trying to move as quickly as possible to reapportion the state, though lengthy legal challenges are expected to delay implementation.

Democrats, meanwhile, are also taking action.

"We're already beginning to introduce bills appealing taking away people's rights in collective bargaining," says Barca. "We're going to keep pursuing alternative education packages that preserve the quality of education in the state. What we have now is very harmful over the long term, and I don't think it can possibly be sustained. We'll be trying to bring back preventative health screenings for women for cancer, as well."

For his part, Risser hopes to revisit the governor's expansive budget bill and the newly bolstered power of Wisconsin's executive branch.

Democrats can dream, of course, but short of recalling Walker, there will be limits to undoing the Republican agenda.

"If in the next election the Democrats took over both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly, and Walker is still in the governor's chair, we're still stymied by his veto pen," Risser says.

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