"You want to screw up your economy? Screw up your government."
As 35,000 people crowded the streets around the Capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, on Saturday, May 10, state AFL-CIO president Phil Neuenfeldt told the roaring crowd, "Never before have we had a governor who had to create a legal defense fund." Detailing the damage Governor Walker has done to the state, Neuenfeldt added, "We are here today to say, 'Never again!'"
Walker is under increasing pressure as prosecutors—who have issued 15 felony indictments of his closest aides and associates for campaign-finance-related violations—draw closer to the governor himself.
"I have repeatedly pledged my cooperation with that inquiry," the governor stated when he announced the formation of his legal defense fund, which can be established, under state law, only by government officials who are being investigated or charged with violating either campaign finance laws or elections practices.
Meanwhile, the effort to recall the governor goes on.
State Senator Jen Schilling, who beat a Republican incumbent in last summer's senate recall elections, told the crowd in Madison, "I think we're about to do some spring cleaning."
Several candidates have announced their intention to run against Walker.
These include Western Wisconsin dairy farmer and state senator Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.
Right after the Saturday rally, another possible candidate, Assembly minority leader Peter Barca, said he was close to a decision about whether to get in the race.
From the floor of the Legislature, Barca has led the fight against Walker and the onslaught of ALEC-sponsored, rightwing legislation, including the attack on public employees' right to organize, the rollback of state environmental regulations, historic cuts to public education, and the assault on the legislative process itself.
Barca fought to keep the Capitol open when Walker closed it to the public, and made the fight to defend Wisconsin's open meetings laws a major rallying point.
Sitting in the High Noon Saloon a few blocks from the Capitol after the rally on Saturday, he said he would make a decision to run in the next week or so.
"I’m analyzing it carefully," he said. "It takes enormous effort and resources, and I'm trying to figure out if I can make a successful run, and where I am best suited to put myself over the next six months."
For the next few days, at least, Barca's chief concern is finishing out the session in the state legislature, where a raft of Republican bills will succeed or fail in less than a week, determining the fate of state schools, the environment, and other areas where ALEC-sponsored bills are changing the face of Wisconsin.
"If Walker is not recalled, I shudder to think what this state will look like three years from now," says Barca.
When he lists the worst things Walker has done, he starts with education, where, Barca says, Walker is "essentially destroying our seed corn with cuts to K-12 and the university system, research, and the vocational college system, where we provide training to close the skills gap."
Second, he mentions changes to tax policy, where, "in order to give breaks to a handful of his friends he raised taxes on those who can least afford it."
Then there is the environment, especially the failure to preserve Wisconsin's wetlands.
And finally, Barca's particular passion: "What we’ve done to clean and open government in this state."
With the Republicans' disregard for open meetings, and rule changes that disempower the legislature and give unprecedented power to the governor, "they’ve defiled our traditions and trampled our values," Barca says.
A year ago, Barca's dramatic confrontation with state Republicans over their flagrant violation of the state's open meetings law went viral on YouTube.
If elected governor, restoring democracy in Wisconsin would be his top priority, Barca says.
"I’d be the first governor to say, ‘Look, take back this power that rightfully doesn’t belong to the governor of the state.'"
Barca, a lifelong resident of Kenosha, in the industrial southeast corner of the state, was a member of Congress from 1993 to 1995, when he was narrowly defeated by tea party Republican Mark Neumann.
Early in his career, Barca taught children with special needs. He is sickened, he says, by the special ed voucher legislation now before the Wisconsin legislature.
"I remember reading the report on Willowbrook," a notorious segregated school for the disabled in New York, where children lived in deplorable conditions. "I feel we’re moving back in that direction," he says.
Barca denounces the distorting effect of special interest money that pushes policies including voucher bills.
But he is not prepared to accept Ed Garvey's "tin cup" challenge and run a campaign that refuses to accept any corporate, union, PAC, or out-of-state money.
"You could do no corporate money," Barca allows. "I don’t think I’d rule out out-of-state money. People all over the country care deeply about the impact of what's happening here on other states."
"People always harken back to Bill Proxmire, and he was very inspiring," Barca adds. "But he had been in office for a while before he ran his shoestring campaign."
Plus, the magnitude of spending, and the avalanche of negative ads on the other side will be hard enough to answer, he says.
"If this were not such an important battle—say I was to run in a primary and the stakes were not so high--I would love to run that kind of campaign," he says.
Barca also says that Kathleen Falk's pledge to veto any state budget that does not include the restoration of public employees' collective bargaining rights was a mistake.
"First of all, it’s hard to predict what will happen," he says. "The next state budget is a year and a half away. A lot will transpire before then. If I were elected governor, I wouldn’t wait until the next budget to make that change. I’d run on it, and I’d introduce a bill immediately along with many other bills, to try to reverse the damage in so many other areas."
Stay tuned for a likely announcement this week.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Wisconsinites Start Turning Back School Privatization."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter