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High Noon in Wisconsin

Governor Scott Walker hangs tough.

May 28, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 35 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Caledonia, Wis.
Geeta Jensen had some exciting news: Governor Scott Walker was visiting Jensen Metal Products to announce the addition of 39 new jobs, part of a company-wide expansion accelerated by tax credits his administration had offered to encourage hiring.

Photo of Scott Walker

Walker: more amused than angry

“It is an honor to have the governor of the state of Wisconsin visit us in this, our 90th anniversary year,” she said in introducing Walker, her slight Indian accent marking her words. “When Jungbert Jensen immigrated to Wisconsin from Copenhagen, Denmark, around 1911, and started making rain gutters and milk pails out of a garage in Racine, he never imagined that his great-grandchildren would one day be hosting the governor of Wisconsin in the shop he started. But, well, here we are!”

When she finished her introduction, it was evident that a few of the 25 employees assembled for the brief ceremony did not share her enthusiasm. Most of the workers applauded the governor in a show of support that ranged from polite to fanatical. But a burly man in a black T-shirt celebrating the company’s 90th anniversary sat quietly staring at the floor as most of his colleagues clapped. A man to his left, wearing an old softball uniform with the arms cut off, folded his arms across his chest.

I asked Jensen about this after Walker’s brief remarks. She told me that four of the company’s longest-serving employees told her they considered the Walker visit a “slap in the face.” They asked to be excused during Walker’s visit but were told that his appearance was more about jobs than politics. They were given the choice of coming to the announcement or working. They attended but didn’t seem thrilled. Walker is used to this.

To say that Wisconsin is divided—even deeply divided—doesn’t quite capture the intensity of the feelings here less than a month before the recall vote. In Brule, “up north” in the sparsely populated northwest corner of the state, the low-key owner of a funeral home kicked off an annual fly-fishing trip with a prayer that included a strong plea for divine intervention on Walker’s behalf. Across the state to the east, a previously apolitical entrepreneur put up a pro-Walker sign and opened his establishment to the local Republican party for fear that his business could not survive a return to higher taxes and more regulations under the state’s Democrats. Virtually everyone you talk to here can tell you a story about lifelong friends who are no longer on speaking terms because of opposing views on the governor. (Indeed, one recent poll found that 3 in 10 Wisconsinites say they have ended relationships themselves.) Tavern owners report regular disputes among customers that range from muttered comments to full-scale shouting matches. And worse.

In Chippewa Falls, on May 8, Amanda Radle was driving to a Pizza Ranch in nearby Eau Claire with her estranged husband, Jeffrey, when they began to discuss the recall primary election being held that day. Amanda says that when she told her husband she planned to vote for a Democrat in the primary, he became angry and said she couldn’t vote. She threatened to stay in the car rather than join him for lunch—she was attempting to “rekindle” their relationship—if he tried to stop her from voting against Walker. The argument escalated, and when the two returned to the home they used to share, it turned violent.

According to a police report summarizing Amanda’s statement to authorities, her husband “attempted in several ways to convince her to vote for Scott Walker,” but Amanda “indicated she was of free mind to vote for whoever she wished to vote for.” When her husband asked about their future together, she responded: “Whatever you decide, I am going to vote.” Amanda told police that her husband, who was outside of her Dodge Durango at the time, opened the car door and threw his ring at her. According to the police report, “Amanda indicated she did not want the ring and whipped it in the yard.” With that, according to Amanda, she attempted to drive off, only to have her husband fling himself onto the hood in an effort to keep her from voting.

Jeffrey Radle and a witness, Ashley Grill, say that Amanda actually turned the car to run over her husband, squealing the tires to mow him down. Jeffrey Radle downplayed the recall election in his statement to the police, but his brother told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “These crazy liberal nuts are always pulling this crap.”

So there’s no doubt Wisconsin is divided. The question is why. 

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