Gov. Walker Survives Recall, Vows To Unite Wisconsin

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, conceded to Republican Governor Scott Walker Tuesday night. Democrats and labor unions tried to oust Walker in response to his push to strip public employee unions of bargaining rights.

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Wisconsin's combative Governor Scott Walker has survived an attempt to remove him from office. Labor unions, angry over the Republican governor's successful push to strip them of most collective bargaining rights, had battled Scott Walker and hoped Wisconsin voters would oust him.

Yesterday, the governor won in a recall election and by a slightly larger margin than his first election. On the losing end was the Democrat Walker beat back in 2010, Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee.

NPR's Don Gonyea brings us this report.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Wisconsin had never had an election like this. Exit polls at first called the recall a dead heat. Turnout was very high in strongholds for both Democrats and Republicans. So it was a huge surprise when less than an hour after polls closed, the big TV at Governor Walker's campaign party in Waukesha suddenly flashed the word winner next to his name on the screen. The crowd went crazy.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GONYEA: And just like that, what was supposed to be a nervous all-night vigil turned into an early indoor block party.

Here's Walkers lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch.

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR REBECCA KLEEFISCH: Now this is what democracy looks like.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GONYEA: She is appropriating a line that's been a favorite at anti-Walker protests at the state capitol. Kleefisch survived her own recall battle yesterday. Scott Walker himself would keep the crowd waiting for another hour. There was word that even though the governor maintained a solid lead as the votes were tallied, the Democrat, Barrett, wasn't ready to concede. But a short time later, there was Barrett, on stage at his campaign event in Milwaukee.

(APPLAUSE)

MAYOR TOM BARRETT: I just got off the phone with Governor Walker and congratulated him on his victory tonight.

We agreed that...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible)

BARRETT: ...it is important for us to work together.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No.

GONYEA: For Barrett supporters too it was a shockingly early end to the evening. There were no cheers when he spoke of working with Governor Walker to try to help heal the state's divisions.

BARRETT: And it is up to all of us, our side and their side, to listen - to listen to each other...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Unintelligible)

BARRETT: ...and to try to do what's right for everyone in this state.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, back at Walker headquarters, Tom Barrett's speech was piped in over the sound system. The reaction included jeers as Barrett spoke of the need for both sides to listen to each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)

BARRETT: ...and to try to do what is right for everyone in this state.

GONYEA: Not long afterward, Governor Walker finally joined the party.

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: Tonight we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GONYEA: He too spoke of the need for Wisconsin to put the bitterness of the past year behind it. But Walker also said that in the future, while he would continue to take action, that he'd also listen to others more and seek help in finding solutions.

WALKER: Bringing our state together will take some time, there's just no doubt about it. But I want to start out right away. In fact, next week I'm going to invite all the members of the state legislature, Republican and Democrat alike, and what better way to bring people together than to invite them over for some brats and some burgers, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

WALKER: And maybe a little bit of good Wisconsin beer as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

GONYEA: It's the kind of offer that is often made at the end of a hard-fought political contest. Sometimes it leads to greater cooperation. But the distance between Walker and the Democrats on so many issues and the bitterness of a campaign where Walker outraised and outspent his opponent by a ratio of seven to one make it hard to see how they'll agree on much more than brats and beer, especially with another high stakes election coming up in November.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Waukesha.

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