Delivering baked goods and fiery speeches, supporters of Republican Gov. Scott Walker warmed a crowd several thousand people strong Saturday, igniting what will be a months-long battle to save the governor's office.
"I want people to see that the majority of Wisconsin cares about Walker and Wisconsin," said Jeni Berdan, 28, of West Allis. "He's one of the first politicians who kept what he promised. That people came out in this kind of weather shows how people are behind him."
Temperatures were in the single digits before the rally began, but rose to the low 20s for the three-hour-long outdoor rally in Wauwatosa's Hart Park. Skies were sunny and blue.
"See, the sun's coming up for us," Jerrid Madden, a 16-year-old Muskego student who spoke at the event, told Patch.
Supporters traveled from blocks away in Wauwatosa or hours away such as La Crosse and Rosholt in Marathon County. A trio from the La Crosse Tea Party drove three hours to cheer on Walker and sell $2 "No Recall" bumper stickers.
Teachers came from Twin Lakes in Kenosha County to help with a bake sale, encouraging donations for goodies that covered long tables. Among the items: frosted red, white and blue cookies in the shapes of T, G, F, S and W — or as a sign explained: "Thank God For Scott Walker."
Teacher from Walker ad helps with baked goods
Helping at the bake tables was Kenosha English teacher Kristi Lacroix, who appeared in one of Walker's first television ads and received threats after saying in the ad that the recall was "sour grapes."
"I support my governor and what he's doing to help save teachers," she said Saturday. "He is fighting to give me a choice on whether or not I want to pay union dues."
Lacroix said she liked what she heard from Walker this week about his planned education reform package, aimed at improving elementary school reading, teacher effectiveness and creating a school rating system. Teachers could be more easily let go if their evaluations fall short and high-perfoming teachers could be rewarded with increased merit pay.
"Why wouldn't we want better teachers?" Lacroix asked.
Another Kenosha Unified School District employee, Lori Deutscher, drove from Twin Lakes to donate homemade apple cinnamon muffins. She joked she was a terrible baker but a friend gave her an easy recipe to try.
"I want him to stay in office," Deutscher said of Walker. "He's doing a great job. Things need to change."
She said she was concerned about burdening her three children and two grandchildren with too much debt, and she praised Walker for attacking the state's deficit.
Protesters set up smaller counter-event
But not everyone at Hart Park was singing Walker's praises. A much smaller group of protesters marched with signs on 70th Street, just outside the barricades erected for the event.
Shouting things such as "Walker 1 Percent" and "Where are the jobs?" they got into verbal tussles with Walker supporters, some of whom stopped to argue, exchange name-calling or take photos and video of protesters.
Dean Sperry from Milwaukee told Patch what upsets him most are the cuts to education funding and the recently enacted Voter Identification law.
"He lied to the people," Sperry said.
He said a rally of a couple thousand people paled in comparison to the support of 1 million via signatures on Walker recall petitions.
Dorothy Ann Phinney of Milwaukee called Walker's moves over the past year a power grab. She said she doesn't believe the majority of Wisconsin citizens support Walker, but the governor will gain votes by spending millions in the coming months on TV ads.
As top Republican elected officials took the stage, Madison resident Michael Dickman was one of several protesters who frequently blew vuvuzelas or shouted taunts.
Dickman acknowledged the horns were "annoying," but said the noise was needed to send a message of disgust at what Republicans were doing to Wisconsin.
"They're devastating our state," he said. "We're last in jobs. We used to be at the top of the heet in education, now we're almost dead last."
Walker crowd tells protesters 'shame, shame'
But the crowd of Walker supporters responded in kind to the horns with chants of "Shame! Shame!" and "Walker! Walker!"
Gail and Robert Toerpe of Bay View held up a large American flag. Gail said it was draped in 1926 on the coffin of her great-grandfather, a Civil War soldier.
Gail said she spent $340 to get signs made reading "Recalls Divide Us!"
"It can be taken as a bipartisan sign," she said. She added she and her husband were "recovering Democrats" who years ago helped the campaigns of Gov. Patrick Lucey and Attorney General Bronson LaFollette.
But Gail said she believed the Democratic Party had grown too extreme and as a pro-life advocate, she now votes Republican and backs Walker.
Terri Bullock of Milwaukee said she was never really politically active until the Capitol chaos last February after Walker's effective end to most public employee collective bargaining. Many of her relatives are teachers who were angry at Walker.
The final straw for Bullock: when her state senator, Lena Taylor, was among 14 Democrats who fled the state to block a vote on the governor's reforms.
"That was so cowardly, just totally shirking your responsibilities," Bullock said.
Now she plans to help the governor's recall fight. She had rally participants sign her homemade sign that said "We Luv Our Guv." She will deliver it to Walker in Madison on her way to Verona where she visits relatives every other weekend.
"I have never done anything like this before," she said. "We're empty nesters and we just want to show him that we all support him."
Teamster member rallies for Walker
A Teamster Union Local 200 member with Bullock carried a pro-Walker sign but said he didn't want to identify himself and face possible backlash. He criticized the recall movement as a waste of money, the same way he said the protests last winter at the Capitol wasted millions in security costs.
"Think about all the teachers that could have paid for," he said.
Pete Kosovich, a Republican Party activist and member of the Grandsons of Liberty, a Tea Party group that has 10,000 volunteers nationally poised to help review Recall Walker petition signatures for validity, said he has seen an increase in grass-roots enthusiasm for Walker. People like Bullock are coming in for the first time to volunteer, he said.
"I honestly believe we're going to find 20 to 30 percent fraud," he said of the recall petitions.
Kosovich, who served on the Franklin Common Council from 2003 to 2008, said he knows Walker from past political events. "I personally like the man. He's honest, ethical, moral. He's doing what's right for Wisconsin."
The silent majority no more
Todd Osborne of Milwaukee said the supporters of Walker haven’t been as vocal as those who oppose the governor, but Saturday was about supporters converting from the silent majority to the not-so-silent.
In other words, Saturday was all about rallying the troops.
"We're going to have to fight a battle again, and we are going to win again," Osborne said.
"The changes in collective bargaining, to me, is a good start to making Wisconsin a right-to-work state," he said. "That’s just huge."
Marquette University student Lucas Baker said he supports Walker because he turned around a large budget deficit facing the state and did what he told voters he would do in 2010.
"The only way we can get the finances in order is to get the public union members to pay half of what the rest of us in the real world have to pay," said Bill Maher, from Kenosha.
Some in the crowd were too young to vote or understand deficits and pensions.
Ariel Lewandowski, 7, helped her older sister April Feltz, 24, carry a Walker sign decorated with glitter. Feltz drove three hours from Rosholt in Marathon County. She said she backed George W. Bush for president and now is supporting Walker.
Carley Hansen, 12, was sick and couldn't come to the rally with her mother Deb of Monona and sister Rachel Westberg, 17, so she made a sign Saturday morning for them to bring for her.
"I get to vote in the next election," Rachel said.
Hansen said she has backed Walker since he opposed adding light rail in Milwaukee. Now she supports many of his initiatives on collective bargaining, concealed carry and the castle doctrine.
Falk the preferred recall opponent
Hansen echoed many Walker supporters in her preferred choice for the Democrat on the recall ballot: former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who lost races for state attorney general in 2006 and governor in the Democratic primary in 2002. The reason they want to see her on the ballot? They believe she's too progressive for Wisconsin moderates.
Bill Berdan, 24, of Milwaukee, said Falk has "Madison money" and is beholden to the state teachers union, which has urged Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett not to get in the race and force a primary election with Falk.
But Hanson said Barrett wouldn't be able to criticize Walker's collective bargaining and pension reforms because the mayor used those "tools" to balance his budget.
"He used Act 10," Hansen said.