I wasn’t expecting the reception I got on Saturday in the small southwest Wisconsin town near our family’s cabin. I walked both sides of a long residential street, taking petitions door-to-door for people to sign in support of recalling Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
In my first three houses, eight people signed. A wife apologized for making me wait, but took the petitions into another room because her husband wanted to sign.
A grandmother and her daughter stopped cleaning out toys from their house long enough to sign. “Do you know how hard his policies are on us?” the daughter asked. “And he’s tried to do even more damage than he’s done!”
Four people moving out of a house interrupted their move to sign. “Walker’s policies are costing me $200 a month,” one of them said. “You bet I’ll sign.”
I had expected a few hostile responses. And about a fifth of the people I asked did decline to sign, though most were cordial. But there were some surprises. The elderly couple with the “We support our troops” sign on their door stopped cutting up their Thanksgiving turkey for a Sunday gathering of the clan to wash their hands and sign. “What he’s done to health care and education is just wrong.”
Several people expressed concern about the Walker administration’s efforts to stifle voting and fair democratic practice.
Three hunters turned their truck and trailer around and pulled up to where I stood on the sidewalk. I explained that I was with the Recall Walker campaign. “It’s why we turned around,” the driver said. He had already signed, but his father wanted the chance. First, he checked to see that I had a campaign volunteer badge. “Some people pretending to be with the campaign are destroying petitions,” he said.
While his father signed, I told him about the woman losing $200 a month. He held up four fingers. “For me, it’s four hundred a month.” He’s a prison guard, and the cut in health care and retirement benefits is hitting his paycheck hard.
I believe that the Recall Walker campaign leaders significantly underestimated discontent in rural areas. When the Iowa County office opened up to train volunteers several days ago, over 100 people showed up. And in five days, they have gathered well over 50 percent of the total signatures they expected to gather in that county in the entire two months of the process.
An office volunteer recounted having a senior couple come in, seeming uncomfortable as they approached the counter. The wife said to her husband, “I don’t like to do this, but it’s got to be done.” Yes, he agreed, “It’s got to be done.” They were Republicans, they said, and it was difficult to abandon the party, but the state’s well-being was more important than party.
It was drizzling much of the afternoon as I walked, and many people invited me in. Probably the visit that I remember most was the elderly lady on oxygen, who apologized as she struggled to write, but was adamant that she wanted to sign. “How did Walker ever get elected?” she asked. “Didn’t people see what he did to Milwaukee County?”
My Saturday afternoon walk in one small town taught me that many more people care about this recall than I had imagined. And it’s not confined to Madison and cities. If southwestern Wisconsin is any example, people in many parts of rural Wisconsin are informed, they understand the issues, and they are deeply distressed by Walker’s policies.