While the recall election is rooted in policy disputes starting in February 2011 over the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions, the debate widened to cover Walker’s entire governorship, which Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the governor's Democratic opponent, described as being driven by ideological tea party interests from outside the state. Critics said Walker was creating profound damage to Wisconsin through several policies, including his repeal of the state’s Equal Pay law, cuts to the state’s health-care program, his rejection of federal money for a high-speed rail line, and the sense that all of the above were depleting long-term job growth in a state that had already been hit hard by the recession.
Walker insisted that reforms were needed to mitigate Wisconsin’s economic crisis and that he had no choice, if raising taxes and issuing mass layoffs were off the table. He pointed to the state’s falling unemployment rate and balanced budget as evidence that he succeeded.
“You cannot do all those things unless you make long-term structural reforms,” he said in a debate with Mayor Barrett last week.
The recall election did not arrive without inflicting an emotional toll on voters. By the time Tuesday rolled around, Wisconsin voters had already voted in a recall election to replace nine state senators of both parties, with unprecedented spending reaching $44 million, a state record.