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Jobs Picture in Wisconsin Still Threatening Walker in Recall

The Government Accountability Board in Wisconsin received guidance from local election officials on when to hold the recall elections, and it looks like the consensus is for primaries on May 15 and the general election on June 12. Barring any last-minute challenges to signatures, that’s probably the date for the recall elections of Governor Scott Walker, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state Senators.

The Walker recall will hinge on a few factors. First, there’s the ongoing John Doe investigation looking at corruption surrounding Walker’s Milwaukee County executive office and his gubernatorial campaign, along with practically the entire state GOP and its allies. The fact that Walker established a legal defense fund suggests that this will continue to dog him through the election. Then there are the lingering effects from the union-busting law, the animating principle for the recalls. Recently, video emerged of Walker, from before the gubernatorial election, vowing that he would negotiate with unions on givebacks of health and pension contributions, which he obviously did not do once in office, instead blindsiding those public employees with an assault on their collective bargaining rights.

But the real factor in the recalls will be the continuing state of the economy in Wisconsin. As documented here, Walker’s jobs record is terrible, among the worst in the country since he came into office. He promised 250,000 new jobs in his first term, and is on pace for far less. In fact, new data that emerged last week shows how far off his benchmarks Wisconsin is. The news was actually pretty good for Walker overall, but he still lags well behind his self-described pace:

Preliminary data from the Department of Workforce Development shows the state added 15,700 private-sector jobs in January but lost 3,200 government jobs for a net gain of 12,500 for the month.

The state’s unemployment rate dipped from 7 percent in December to 6.9 percent in January, the lowest rate since December 2008. The department also released revised 2011 statistics Thursday that show the state lost jobs in four of the last six months of the year, amending preliminary data that indicated six straight months of job losses.

Still, the data shows Wisconsin added only 6,000 private sector jobs overall during the first 13 months of Walker’s administration, putting him on pace to create only 24,000 jobs by 2014. The governor issued a statement conceding there’s “a lot of work ahead of us.”

It’s definitely better for him to have added jobs in two months of the last half of the year rather than six straight months of job loss. Nevertheless, 6,000 total jobs gained in 13 months is pretty pathetic. And Wisconsinites certainly feel that.

And there’s no question that the anti-Walker forces are energized. Over the weekend, 65,000 Wisconsinites flooded the state capital in Madison, on the anniversary of the passage of the anti-union law. The spirit of the uprising remains strong, but it’s the realities of the pocketbook that could upend Walker in June.

UPDATE: The GAB formally ordered the recalls of four state Senators today. The Republicans to be challenged are Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Sens. Pam Galloway, Van Wanggaard and Terry Moulton.

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David Dayen

David Dayen