Patti Wenzel

In Wisconsin, a recall of historic proportions

By - May 3rd, 2011 04:00 am
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Photo by Patti Wenzel

Wisconsin voters are on the verge of making history, with a recall vote of epic proportions, never seen in this country before.

Organizers targeted every one of the 16 eligible senators (meaning they’ve been in office for at least one year) — eight Democratic and eight Republican — for their votes and behavior pertaining to Act 10, also known as the budget repair bill.

Republicans are targeted for their votes in favor of Act 10, which would restrict collective bargaining rights among public employees, as well as a perceived subversion of the democratic process with a hasty committee vote on an altered form of the bill; Democrats are on the block for opposing Gov. Walker’s reforms or their 3-week flight to Illinois to stall the vote.

Who’s on the block?

Petitions against nine senators have been submitted to the Government Accountability Board, the first step toward a recall election. Each petition must contain qualified, unique signatures totaling at least 25% of the votes cast for the office being recalled in the previous election. If the submitted petition is ratified, a recall election can move forward.

The effort against the Republican senators has been more successful, as Sens. Alberta Darling (River Hills), Robert Cowles (Green Bay), Sheila Harsdorf (River Falls), Luther Olsen (Ripon), Randy Hopper (Fond du Lac) and Dan Kapanke (La Crosse) could face recall election races. Three Democratic senators  —  Dave Hansen (Green Bay), Jim Holperin (Conover) and Robert Wirch (Pleasant Prairie) — may also end up on recall ballots.

Failed recall attempts were made against Democratic senators Lena Taylor and Spencer Coggs (both of Milwaukee), Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller (Monona) and Fred Risser (Madison), as well as Republicans Glenn Grothman (West Bend) and Mary Lazich (New Berlin).

Recall committees are still actively collecting signatures against Democratic Senator Julie Lassa (Stevens Point). The deadline to file that petition is May 16.

Last week the GAB won a court request to extend the 31-day review period for the petitions, since there is such an unprecedented number to verify. That board has also requested to hold all the recall elections on July 12. If more than one candidate from either party runs for a recalled seat, the July 12 elections will serve as primaries in those races, with final elections on August 9.

Historic proportions

Wisconsin is one of only 18 states that allow for the recall of state representatives. Of those 18, only 5 states have actually recalled elected officials: a total 20 recalls since 1913, with only 13 of those successful.

Successful state office recalls nationwide since 1913.

Two of those recalls were right here in Wisconsin. In 2003, voters removed Sen. Gary George (D-Milwaukee) from office after he sided with Republicans to override a veto of Gov. Jim Doyle’s gaming compact with the state’s Indian Tribes. In 1996, Sen. George Petak (R-Racine) was recalled after he flipped his vote from “no” to “yes” on the construction of Miller Park and the attendant sales tax district established to fund the construction.

Milwaukee County is familiar with recall elections. In 2002, seven county supervisors were ousted in recalls tied to the pension scandal that also saw County Executive Tom Ament step down from office.

And La Crosse has seen its share, with the 1977 removal of five school board members.

But with nine, possibly ten, senators facing recall elections this summer, Wisconsin will set the standard by which all other recall elections are measured.

Possible opponents

Even though the recall petitions haven’t been certified, candidates are already staking a claim to oppose the incumbents.

  • State Rep. Jennifer Schilling (D-La Crosse) has thrown her hat in the ring against Dan Kapanke. She cited the senator’s vote for Walker’s budget repair bill as the main reason for seeking the seat.
  • Jessica King is looking for a rematch against Randy Hopper. King, the deputy mayor of Oshkosh and a city council member, lost to Hopper by 163 votes in 2008. The Hopper recall campaign gathered 23,946 signatures; only 15,269 were needed.
  • The battle for Luther Olsen’s seat could be a circus, as Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) has entered the big top. Clark has served in the assembly since 2008 and said he is surprised to even be running for a state senate seat.

  • No one has stepped forward to challenge Robert Cowles and there are no seated Democratic representatives in the district who seem to want to move up. But the Democratic challengers from previous Assembly races are said to be considering a shot at Cowles.

Sam Dunlop is a former two-term City of De Pere councilman who lost to current Rep. Phil Montgomery. While Dunlop finished within five points of Montgomery in 2010, he is not sure if he is the right man at this time. Mert Summers may also be considering a run at Cowles, but his loss in the 2010 Assembly race to Rep. Jim Steineke by 15 points would make his battle in a strongly-Republican district difficult.

Sheila Harsdorf’s recall organizers collected over 22,000 signatures, 7,000 more than needed to get Harsdorf’s name on the ballot. The recall campaign has said a candidate to oppose Harsdorf will be announced today.

  • Former State Representative Sheldon Wasserman, who served in the assembly for 14 years before running and losing to Alberta Darling in 2008, is rumored to be considering a second shot at the 8th district seat. State Rep. Sandy Patsch (D-Whitefish Bay) will announce Thursday whether she will also enter the race.

As for the recalls elections against Democratic incumbents, the GOP has yet to put up a candidate.

  • Tim Holperin could face a challenge from current Rep. Tom Tiffany or Oconto County GOP Chair Kevin Barthel. Tiffany has run for the 12th Senate district twice before, losing to Holperin in 2008. Barthel filed a lawsuit earlier this year to compel Holperin’s return from Illinois, after he fled there at the beginning of the budget repair bill fight.
  • Robert Wirch still does not have a declared opponent, even though the recall petition campaign against him received major press coverage. Recall organizer Dan Hunt has hinted that if someone better qualified doesn’t step forward to run against Wirch, he will consider filing candidacy papers.
  • No one has even hinted at being interested as running on the Republican ticket against Dave Hansen, currently the Assembly’s Assistant Minority Leader.

Recall of Governor?

Anger over Act 10, forwarded by Walker, is driving the recalls, and it’s no surprise that talk of recalling the governor has been loud and strong, especially among the protesters marching in Madison over the last few months. Like all other public officials, Walker is not eligible for recall until he serves at least one year. According to the GAB, recall petitions against Walker cannot be circulated until early November 2011, and cannot be filed until January 3, 2012.

The number of signatures required to trigger a recall election for Governor is 540,208, or one-quarter of the 2,160,832 votes cast for Governor in the November 2010 General Election.

Categories: Politics

0 thoughts on “In Wisconsin, a recall of historic proportions”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Correction: It’s Jen Shilling, not Julie.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sorry, that one got by me. Corrected it now.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Uhh … I know that this article is about recalls generally. But it’s abundantly clear that Republicans are the most vulnerable, and that the entire ordeal is Republican-made, Republican-caused, a nasty piece of political work by a Republican Governor. This is made evident by 1) the mass protests by anti-Walker folks in Madison, and 2) the disparity between the number of vulnerable Republican seats in this recall compared to Democratic seats.

    So why then are you posting an image of the Democratic representatives above (C.O.W.S.: Cowards of Wisconsin’s Senate)?, as if they’re most culpable or responsible?

    How about posting the many images and slogans in protest of the real architects of this bitter mess?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Steve, The number of republicans who had petitions signed for a recall far out number of democrats this is true. What is also true is the number of republicans in office far outnumber the democrats! It will be interesting to see how the numbers in office change after the votes are tallied… just saying you might have to eat crow.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sen. George Petak (D-Racine) or (R-Racine)?

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a dead Republican, I wish to vote for recall of any Democrat. Please send a volunteer with petition to: headstone ZombieGOP, Bovine Memorial Cemetery.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I live in Madison, and it’s really heartening to see people taking a stand. Even more emboldening is the fact that it crosses what I have perceived as a generational gap, since people are protesting across all age groups. High school students, college students, young working professionals marching side by side with firemen, professors, combat veterans, and gramma n’ grampa.

    You’ll never, ever see the GOP turn out anything like that since their policies are the bane of my generation, and kids who are younger than us. In their haste to gobble up the public education fund and digest it into corporate tax breaks, Walker and Fitzgerald will retire and spend their days laughing as us as we watch our kids slave through a broke education system. It’s really hard not to find these people repugnant if you are so negatively affected by their policies.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I find your comments misleading, If the Democrats had not decided to side with the Unions and impose Taxation without representation and over compensate Union workers then Republicans would not have to cut the education budget. So lets get to the choices 1.More money in the Unions pockets = less budget money for Education – 2.Less money in the Unions pocket = more money for the education budget. Now you can try and move the money around all you want but at the end of the day a deficit is a deficit just how long do you think Wisconsin can continue to go broke before you decide it is time to do something about it.
    You said “slave through a broke education system” WAKE UP and Look around the whole state is broke!

    Let’s understand business so we can understand what policies do to business.

    Ten people (9 Democrats & 1 Republican)find $10,000.00 and they want to start a town, They need to start a business to provide for themselves, but only one person (the Republican)knows anything about business. So they look at the two theories. Democrat theory is – divide it evenly. (this SOUNDS good) Republican theory is – give it to one person. (this SOUNDS bad).

    O.k. so it takes the whole $10,000.00 to start the business and the republican theory is the business man takes the whole $10,000.00 starts the business and divides the profits up as follows: he keeps 15% for himself and 9.4% goes to each of the other 9 people. this goes on for awhile the Republican has a bigger house and a nicer car and the 9 democrats our making a living but our jealous and start feeling frustrated. A fire starts and burns the building down the people are shocked. The Republican Say’s this is unfortunate but i had set aside 4% of my profits so we have enough to rebuild. Hooray everyone keeps their jobs.

    The Democrats could not even start the business because if would not be fair that one person had more money. But for this exercise let’s pretend.

    So the democrat theory is to divide the profits up evenly 10% this goes on and things are good everyone lives the same, same thing happens a fire burns the business down but they did not have enough money to rebuild so they all starve to death.

    Let’s also use the top story and apply a tax: the 9 people get jealous and put a tax on the Republican so they can get more money. Same Thing happens fire burns the business down and they do not have enough to rebuild.

    So do what “Sounds” good or what will “actually” work.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Ahh the sweet smell of Karma – you can only hate for so long before it comes back full circle – so proud of my WI neighbors!!

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