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Activists dispute Jewish stake in recall election
June 1st, 2012
“All eyes are on Wisconsin right now,” said Michael Blumenfeld, the Madison-based director of the Wisconsin Jewish Conference.
As the state prepares to vote in a recall election on June 5, “even national analysts cite this as the most important election this year next to the presidential” coming in November, Blumenfeld said in a telephone interview May 18.
In this historic Wisconsin election, Democrats will attempt to unseat Republican Gov. Scott Walker halfway through his term and replace him with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
As William Finnegan wrote in a March 5 New Yorker magazine article, “There have been only two gubernatorial recalls in the history of the United States,” one in North Dakota in 1921, the other in California in 2003.
• Lieutenant Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch faces Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin.
• Four Republican state senators — Scott Fitzgerald (Juneau), Van Wanggaard (Racine), Terry Moulton (Chippewa Falls), and Jerry Petrowski (Marathon, replacing Pam Galloway, who resigned in March) — will face Democrats Lori Compas, John Lehman, Kristen Dexter, and Donna Seidel, respectively.
But is there any Wisconsin Jewish community stake in this election? As one can well imagine, that depends upon whom one asks.
Madisonian Mark D. Laufman is managing director of the Laufman Weinbach Group of Robert W. Baird & Co. He also is chair of the Wisconsin Jewish Conference, and a longtime activist for the Wisconsin Republican Party.
And as he told The Chronicle in a telephone interview on May 17, “I don’t think this is a Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, or Islamic issue. This is an issue of unions who made a decision that they didn’t like what the governor did” in taking away collective bargaining rights from public employee unions.
But Milwaukeean Martha Pincus disagrees completely. Pincus, a former nurse and teacher, is a longtime Democratic Party activist and a self-described “Progressive.” She will be a delegate to the Wisconsin state Democratic convention on June 8 and will be one of the state’s delegates to the national Democratic convention, scheduled to begin Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.
“The Jewish community believes in repairing the world,” Pincus said in a telephone interview May 22, but the actions of Walker and the GOP-controlled state legislature have “tore down the world” with their efforts to remove social “safety nets” and to “disenfranchise voters” with a voter ID law. (Courts have issued rulings that prevent this law from taking effect during the recall election.)
Laufman said he believes this election is a Jewish issue only to some Jews “who come from the further part of the left.”
“We have a whole group [of Jews] who believes that you can’t do anything that will affect somebody else who has less money,” he said. “They don’t understand economics, and what the cost is for a state government to run a $3.5 billion deficit… You’ve got to balance your budgets.”
(According to the Sunshine Review website, which says it is devoted to “Bringing state and local government to light,” Wisconsin “faced a $3.6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years, as reported by Wisconsin Republicans to MSNBC” on Feb. 17, 2011.)
Moreover, Laufman continued, these Jews “don’t understand that businesses make their decisions based on how to be more profitable. You can’t keep passing regulations and increasing taxes and expect a business to want to stay” in Wisconsin.
Pincus, however, said the idea of the state and country moving in a more conservative direction “is very scary to me, and it should be scary to the Jewish people.”
“I just think [Republicans and conservatives] have a certain level of disdain for anybody different from them,” she said. “I truly believe a lot of these people are just haters, and I think they have got prejudice against Jews.
“Can I prove it? No. But look how they treat anybody else who is different… If you really think about all the things that have come down, crammed through by Walker and his people, many of them are anti-poor people, anti-disabled people, anti-women, anti-students, anti-union.”
The two activists also disagree about whether the recall was an appropriate thing for Walker’s opponents to seek. Laufman called it “absolutely silly. Just because you don’t like what somebody is doing, people elected by the public, you don’t recall.”
Laufman believes that the recall power should be used only to remove officials guilty of criminal behavior. “Nobody lied, cheated, stole, or raped. It makes no sense,” he said.
Pincus, however, alleged that Walker told “blatant lies” about his plans, or at least did not mention his intent to attack public employees’ collective bargaining rights, and that “justifies recalling him.”
(The state constitution’s description of the recall power — Article XIII Miscellaneous Provisions, Section 12 — says, “The qualified electors of the state… may petition for the recall of any incumbent elective officer after the first year of the term…” It says nothing about only certain reasons being appropriate.)
Blumenfeld, for his part, said, “I think in terms of issues.” The Wisconsin Jewish Conference both monitors and lobbies the state government on issues of Jewish interest.
In that perspective, “some of our issues are impacted” by the results of the recall election. These include preserving the “safety net” programs like BadgerCare health care cost reimbursement program and opposing expansion of the “school choice” program that provides tax money to parents for sending children to private and parochial schools.
Therefore, Blumenfeld is concerned about procedural matters. If Walker wins and stays in office, “then the status quo will be maintained,” and the work that has begun on the 2013-15 budget will simply continue. If Barrett wins, that would “hit the ‘Reset’ button on the budget process,” and therefore the WJC’s priorities “will be different.”
But in either case, “We work with whatever administration there is,” and “we will continue to work on our priorities and the issues we care about.”