Union stronghold Superior, Wis. mobilizes for Tom Barrettby Dan Kraker, Minnesota Public Radio
SUPERIOR, Wis. — Just after schools ends at Great Lakes Elementary, kids are outside shooting hoops.
Inside, teachers have wrapped up their work in the classroom. But not all are ready to go home. Third grade teacher Kim Kohlhaas said after they leave, many teachers will put in several more hours of work — campaigning.
In the battle for the state's governor's seat between Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his Democratic opponent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, schools like this are bases to many of the combatants.
"I know people who have put on miles and miles of walking to different doors in different communities," Kohlhaas said. "People who are out there making phone calls."
The recall effort has drawn national attention, and has bitterly divided many Wisconsin towns and families. In Superior, a union stronghold just across the Duluth harbor, Barrett enjoys strong support.
Kohlhaas is president of the Superior Federation of Teachers. Teachers' unions across the state have played a lead role in the campaign to recall Walker. One of the first-term governor's most controversial moves was to limit the collective bargaining rights of most government workers, including teachers.
Teachers were in the vanguard of the huge protests that followed. Kohlhaas said the recall effort has been incredibly emotional.
"People who signed the recalls, they cried," she said. "I think there will be people crying when they vote. This is the movement, whatever side you're on, this is the movement of our generation."
But not all teachers oppose Walker. Craig Rosand is an 11th grade history teacher at Superior High School. He supports the changes Walker has championed.
"It has cost me money, I have to admit that. And taking home a smaller paycheck isn't a pleasant thing for anybody to do," Rosand said.
But Rosand said even though he now has to contribute more of his paycheck to his pension and health care plans, he's standing up for what he believes in, as chair of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee in northwest Wisconsin.
"I am a public school teacher and I do stand with Scott Walker," he said. "He was able to, with his reforms, eliminate a $3.6 billion deficit. Without raising taxes, without piling on debt and without firing a bunch of people."
But according to employment data that Walker has touted, Wisconsin state government payrolls shrank by 1,400 jobs, or 2 percent over Walker's first year in office.
Rosand is definitely in the minority in Superior, a blue collar town that's voted blue in almost every major election for decades. Barrett won 57 percent of the vote in Douglas County in 2010, compared to just 41 percent for Walker.
"Which actually is a weak showing for a Democratic candidate in Douglas County," said Joel Sipress, a labor historian at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. "In a typical gubernatorial election the Democratic candidate will typically carry the county by a two-to-one margin."
Sipress attributes that huge gap to Superior's strong labor tradition, starting with the railroad and shipping unions in the early 1900s.
On Wednesday afternoon, nearly 100 people crammed inside Democratic headquarters in downtown Superior. State Rep. Nick Milroy of nearby South Range gestures to volunteer sign up sheets taped to the wall behind him. They're nearly all full.
"But we need people to sign up to fill every one of these shifts. The only way we're going to win this election is if we get every one of our friends and neighbors here in the Northland out to vote," Milroy said.
While there are few voters undecided about the candidates, Milroy says the key to a Barrett victory is people who are undecided about actually voting. Democrats' internal polls show that Barrett has a 15 percentage point advantage among residents who aren't sure whether they'll cast a ballot.
But Republicans are also focused on getting out the vote.
Adam Hanson, 32, owns a telemarketing business in Superior and he's clearly comfortable making a sales pitch.
"Your vote on June 5th for Governor Walker is essential to moving Wisconsin forward," he says on a call.
Hanson admits it can be lonely being a Republican in Superior.
"It's been a very divisive campaign," Hanson said. "I've lost a few friends, they just don't talk to me as much anymore. It would be way easier to just be a Democrat."
Hanson's not planning on changing parties. But he's hopeful that after the election, maybe football season will help reunite Wisconsin. After all, he said, everyone loves the Packers.
"Honestly, that's what unites our state," he said. "Once politics are said and done, everyone loves the Packers."
- Morning Edition, 06/01/2012, 8:40 a.m.