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2005-09-28
Jefferson, WI. Wal-Mart Voters Win Recall Election, But Lose Mandate.

There is nothing like Wal-Mart to drive a wedge through the middle of a small town. Consider the case of Jefferson, Wisconsin, where Wal-Mart has become the divisive issue that split this small town right down the middle -- or at least 52% to 48% to be exact. Alderman David Olsen voted against Wal-Mart two times this year, and his enemies lined up an effort to take him out of office because of it. Last night they narrowly succeeded in pushing their special one-issue campaign. Olsen, who owns a local funeral home and was born in Jefferson, was in the middle of his first term in office when a recall petition was organized against him over one issue -- a Wal-Mart supercenter. Yesterday, a margin of just 65 voters turned him out of office, by a vote of 880 to 815. That means if only 33 votes had been reversed, Olsen would still be an Alderman. According to the Capital Times, this was the first recall election in the history of this city of 7,500 residents. It turns out that Wal-Mart's superstore loss in Jefferson was by a vote of 5-3 against annexing land. The issue came back to the Council a second time, but this time two Aldermen changed their vote in favor of annexation, creating a 5-3 vote for Wal-Mart. But because annexation requires a two-thirds vote, the plan fell one vote short of the 6 affirmative votes it needed -- and Wal-Mart supporters began a recall effort aimed at Olsen, but not the other two Alderman who also killed the plan."Today was Jefferson's referendum on Wal-Mart. The closeness of the election shows how divided the city is," Olsen told the newspaper "The power of Wal-Mart has come in and said 'anyone who stands up to us had better watch out. Wal-Mart is coming to Jefferson. Don't let anybody kid you." Olsen added, "My convictions have not changed. I don't think Wal-Mart is the answer to our economic issues. The fact that I lost this race doesn't change my opinion that they don't belong in Jefferson," he said. Olsen can now run again in six months against his opponent, who told reporters, ""I know there is going to be some hurt because the race was so close. Hopefully, in time, our city will heal and we will get through this."

What you can do: There really was no winner in Jefferson last night. The vote showed the painful truth: this is a town that has been cut in half by Wal-Mart. The company's unwillingness to consider a smaller store, its' 'my way or the highway' mentality, has created "hurt" in Jefferson, and it won't heal soon. In January of 2003, I spoke in Jefferson against Wal-Mart in the early days of their campaign. I pointed out the huge store proposed for the gateway into town was inconsistent with their own Master Plan. One voter survey at the time showed that 64% of the town did not want a big box store in town. The newspaper accounts of this election have not stated how much money "citizen" Wal-Mart threw into the election. But the closeness of the outcome robbed pro Wal-Mart people of any real mandate. Annrexation, after all, requires a two-third supermajority, and if Olsen's vote is a surrogate for the Wal-Mart sentiment in town, there is no supermajority for an annexation. There is no other retailer in America that would generate a negative rating of 48% in an election -- even one conducted on an unlevel playing field of money politics.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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