By STEVEN NALLEY
There may be hundreds of miles between the borders of Wisconsin and Mississippi, but for Grant Sowell, Tupelo Tea Party coordinator, politics has no borders.
On June 5, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker became the first state governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election. When Walker successfully pushed the state legislature to pass a bill which, among other actions, imposed heavy limits on several state workers’ collective bargaining rights, more than one million state citizens lent their signatures to a petition for the recall election.
Sowell traveled to Wisconsin to join the Tea Party’s campaign against the recall, and he will speak to the Starkville Tea Party Saturday at 3 p.m. at Fellowship Baptist Church about his experiences.
Sowell said he first developed an interest in helping the pro-Walker campaign when he saw television news broadcasters discussing the election’s potential implications across the country. Some of them argued a successful recall could embolden Democrats in other states to recall other Republican political figures, he said.
“To me that sounds ridiculous ... to kick him out of office for living up to his promise of balancing the budget and saving people’s jobs,” Sowell said. “ To me, he’s kind of a hero. He’s what’s right with politics.”
Starkville resident Clyde Williams said he disagrees, both with Walker’s policies and the TEA Party’s stances. Williams said he did not take part in any pro-recall campaigns, but he has a summer home in Wisconsin, routinely conducts business there and has several friends there. He said casting Walker’s legislation as a budget repair issue neglects the possibility of local governments raising taxes to compensate, particularly where public education is concerned.
“This is not over,” Williams said. “Wisconsin is a very strong pro-education state. There will be decisions and elections by school boards all over that state over the next few weeks and months on whether to try to override state law on how much can be taxed at a local level. The electorate (at the local level) can vote to override it. That is happening over the summer as budgets are finalized at the local level. The county we go to in the summer has four school districts. It’s pretty clear two of them will be making that decision... toward July or August.”
As different as Williams and Sowell’s viewpoints are, they do agree on a few points concerning the recall election. First, Williams said, the recall election created sharp divides in the state.
“It was a very volatile and very difficult situation,” Williams said. “Wisconsin’s a place I’ve found to be generally very friendly and very open. This thing really, significantly divided up the citizenry up there: brother against brother, family against family.”
Sowell said his campaign team went door-to-door at about 700 homes each day, and he, too, saw his share of the divide in Wisconsin.
“They were either very much for us or not for us at all,” Sowell said. “Occasionally, you would have someone that needed a little more information, and they wanted to talk about it.”
Second, Sowell said he does not believe the recall election’s results play a role in predicting the results of the presidential election.
“I don’t put too much into this one race,” Sowell said. “I think there’s a lot of factors to be determined.”
Williams said he does not foresee nationwide fallout from the recall’s failure, either.
“It’s not a referendum on anything other than Walker’s recall,” Williams said.
Finally, both said the political activities leading up to the recall election could impact the TEA Party’s future in Wisconsin. They disagree on whether that impact will be positive or negative.
Williams said, “I do think the TEA Party, that line of thinking, that level of activity, has created some activists that are probably more inclined to be moderate and centrist. They (also) created a lot of people who are activists who haven’t been activists before on the side they are opposed to.”
But, Sowell said, “We’ve seen a tremendous ripple effect that we believe has helped our cause, the private sector. The feeling I got on the ground was that people were grateful for us helping.”