Divisive – from recalls to recounts, it became a buzzword for Wisconsin politics in 2012.
A national spotlight shined hard on Wisconsin this year, as it was a historic one for politics.
Scott Walker became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville became a national household name after being selected as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate and state voters elected Tammy Baldwin to fill Herb Kohl's seat, making in her the first openly gay woman in the U.S. Senate.
The Walker recall
On the heels of a slew of recall elections and large-scale protests on the steps of the state Capitol building, the year kicked off with more recall attempts, including one aimed at Gov. Scott Walker.
Largely sparked by the governor's Act 10, which curtailed collective bargaining for most public employees, Democrats turned in nearly 1 million signatures against Walker — and a total of 1.9 million signatures, including another 845,000 filed against four Republican lawmakers and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch — to the Government Accountability Board in January, after two months of circulating petitions.
Election officials said they would spend the next 60 days verifying those signatures.
In the meantime, Republicans, who characterized themselves as the silent majority over the past year, rallied in Wauwatosa for the first event of its kind in support of Walker.
Then in late March, the GAB verified 900,938 valid signatures, more than enough to spark a recall. The state set the primary date for May 8 and the general election for June 5.
Democrats Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Kathleen Vinehout and Doug LaFollette squared off in May for a chance to challenge Walker; and Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, and private investigator Ira Robbins to emerged to challenge Kleefisch. Independent gubernatorial candidate Hariprasad "Hari" Trivedi also was on the ballot.
Voters wouldn't be required to show identification, after a Dane County circuit judge issued a permanent injunction blocking the implementation of the law. It was the second time the recently enacted law had been shot down. Later in 2012, the law would be shot down for a third time.
National eyes on Wisconsin
As the Democratic field emerged to challenge Walker, Republicans on a national level jockeyed for the right to take on President Barack Obama, and they saw Wisconsin as a place to plead their case.
Republican candidate Rick Santorum visited Wisconsin in March. Wisconsin's caucus, along with others held in early April, would arguably be Santorum's last chance to stay in the race for the GOP nomination for president, but Romney .
In May, Barrett easily defeated Falk to spark a gubernatorial rematch — Barrett versus Walker. Nothing changed from the previous year, however, and Walker cruised to an easy victory to retain the governor's office.
With the gubernatorial recall in the rear-view, the focus in the state shifted to the emerging two-man race between former Gov. Tommy Thompson and businessman Eric Hovde for the approaching GOP primary for the open U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Kohl. The primary winner would take on U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the lone Democrat in the running for the seat. Thompson emerged as the winner in the GOP primary.
Meanwhile, Ryan added more intrigue to the political scene when he was selected to run as vice president on the Republican ticket for president.
Wisconsin's U.S. Senate race and the presidential race were in question right up to Nov. 5. Obama and Romney visited the swing state of Wisconsin several times in the weeks approaching Election Day, and the contest between Baldwin and Thompson was bitterly contested, with more than $78 million spent, mostly on attack ads for television. Obama and Baldwin emerged as winners, with the president taking Wisconsin with about 52 percent of the vote, despite Ryan's presence.
Wauwatosa in the vortex
Wauwatosa is, of course, Gov. Walker's hometown, and events here blossomed early in 2012 – actually, even earlier.
On Jan. 21, supporters held the Celebrate Walker rally in Hart Park, drawing an estimated 3,000 people and featuring the three Repbublican candidates for U.S. Senate: former Gov. Tommy Thompson (the eventual GOP post-primary candidate), State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, and former Congressman Mark Neumann.
The rally was partly in response to an anti-Walker rally that had been held along the governor's home block on 68th Street in Wauwatosa on Nov. 15, 2011, in which about 1,000 people came out to start collecting recall signatures.
In June, a group of Walker supporters was evicted from a freeway footbridge just to the south of the Wauwatosa line and a 16-year-old boy was handcuffed by Milwaukee police – and held until all adults left the bridge, something those involved called a hostage situation.
In several elections, Wauwatosa fell all across the map. Tosa's majority voted to keep Walker in office in the recall election; however, in November, the city went for Obama in the presidential election by a majority that just about mirrored his margin in the state and the nation.
On the other hand, U.S. Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin lost by a handful of votes to Thompson – proving once again that Wauwatosa has become as purple and independent as any community in Wisconsin, having handily voted to re-elect a Republican governor and then months later a Democratic president, while at the same time voting for an old-line GOP former governor by a smigeon over a liberal Democrat for a U.S. Senate seat.