Don Davis

Wisconsin Recalls, Explained

Filed By Don Davis | March 14, 2011 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: civil rights, Democrats, economic policy, Labor, politics, Recall, Republicans, SEIU, White House, Wisconsin

I'm unable to finish my story about Titan Cement suing two North Carolina residents who appear wisconsin-senate-protest.jpgto be doing nothing more than speaking the truth, because, unfortunately, other important news has forced itself to the front of the line.

That's why today we're going to be talking about Wisconsin and how workers there are fighting back against the State's Republican legislators and governor, who seem to have gone out of their way this past three weeks to govern without the consent of the governed.

It's kind of chilly today in Wisconsin, but I can assure you, things are heating up fast and it ain't because of spring.

"I will tell you this: Any business where two partners don't trust each other, any business where one party says, 'You need to do X, Y and Z because I told you,' is a business that is not only not run well, it is a business that can never be as successful as it can be,"

--Former National Football League Players' Association executive director DeMaurice Smith

As so often happens, we need a bit of background.

In Wisconsin, a recall involves, first, the collection of signatures, then, if you get enough, a recall election.

Once the proper papers have been filed, those who want to recall an elected official have 60 days to gather signatures for a recall petition that equal 25% of the number of votes cast in the prior gubernatorial election in that "political subdivision."

What that means is in English is that if you're looking to recall a state senator and the last time a Governor ran, 50,000 votes were cast in that senator's district, you need to gather 12,500 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election in that district.

The election is not to ask the question: "Should this officeholder be recalled?"

Instead, the incumbent will run against other candidates, and whoever has the most votes either keeps or takes over the office.

It is possible that multiple candidates will emerge from within the same party; if that happens a "recall primary" election is held.

A primary would take place four weeks after the signatures are turned in, the recall election itself would be six weeks after, and both elections would be held on a Tuesday; all of this according to Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin constitution.

You can't recall someone until after they've been in office for a year, so the governor can't be recalled today, but because the Senate elects half of its members every two years there are a group of state senators who can be recalled; they were elected in 2008.

If you've ever been to Embarrass, Wisconsin (home of The Chair That Grew), you've visited Robert Cowles' 2nd District. (For the record, it's more or less 100 miles due north of Milwaukee, and there's some football team that plays in Green Bay that's also in his district.) He's been a senator since 1987, and in '08 he ran unopposed. His district voted 52-46 for Obama over McCain in '08, and chose Bush over Kerry by almost exactly the same margin in '04.

I do not have a feel for who might run against him, but I have some calls out to try to get an answer; if I learn more, we'll add it to the story.

One senator who might be in trouble is Alberta Darling (so far as I know, she's unrelated to cricket great Joe Darling), who represents District 8, which is basically Milwaukee's northern suburbs.

In '08 she only won by 1007 votes (of about 100,000 cast).

It's worth noting, however, that her district cast the most votes for governor in 2010; as a result her opponents will be required to gather more valid signatures that in any other District (20,343, by one reckoning).

Her opponent last time was Sheldon Wasserman; he's a former state representative, an OB/GYN from Milwaukee, and a member of the State's Medical Examining Board.

(On a side note, it looks as though the governor might be messing with the board as well; he refused to allow two recent physician nominees selected by the board to be seated, and he's apparently looking to nominate his own people.)

Just as in District 2, this district voted for Obama in '08, and Bush in '04.

Sheila Harsdorf, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on State and Federal Relations and Information Technology, was sent to Madison to look after the interests of the state's westernmost district, "The Fightin' 10th", as Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, would say.

Even though she thinks state workers are taking too much from the public treasury, her relationships with the federal government are so good that she had no problem taking in $195,000 in federal farm subsidies over a ten-year period for Beldenville's Trim-Bel Valley Farms, of which she just happened to be a 50% owner as recently as 2008 (for all I know, she may still be an owner, more current information was unavailable).

This is another one of those districts that went for Obama in '08 by about just the same margin as it went for Bush in '04.

Luther Olsen of the 14th (located about 40 miles or so due north of Madison) is another farm owner; he owns 20% of Waushara's Riverview Farm; they also happily accepted at least $58,502 of your money and mine, because Olsen, like Sheila Harsdorf, apparently believes that's a better use of our money than, you know, paying a public school teacher or something.

(Fun Fact: did you know Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, used to be a Milwaukee public school teacher?)

Olsen did not face an opponent in '08. Once again, this district went Obama in '08, Bush in '04, although it went about 4 points farther for Bush than for Obama.

And that brings us to Randy Hopper.

This district (the 18th, which most notably includes Oshkosh and Fond Du Lac) is another one of those Republican seats that are considered among the most "gettable"; that's because just 163 votes separated Hopper and his '08 opponent, Jessica King.

There's also this:

I have a lot of correctional facilities, a couple universities, and a couple of tech schools [in my district]. I have the second largest population of state employees in the state.

Hopper also chairs the Senate Education Committee, and there's also a story going around that his wife is telling people that he's been providing some "private lessons" to his 25-year-old mistress down in Madison; this according to the MAL Contends blog. That's not going to help a family-values candidate.

He owns two radio stations, one an AM-talk Ag Report and Hannity broadcaster, the other an FM station that caters to the "music at work" market; this may allow him to mitigate some of the potentially-about-to-occur bad publicity, and certainly can't hurt at election time.

Perhaps the most unrepentant Republican during this process has been Glen Grothman of the 20th (which actually, literally, includes Fredonia, and that has to have some deeper meaning...), and he can afford to take a strong stand.

This guy might well be a mortal lock in this district: the Sheboygan area is one of the most reliably Republican-voting regions of the state over the past 30 years, and of all the senate candidates who faced opposition in '08, he won with a larger margin of victory than any of 'em. (He didn't get 61% of the vote in '08... he won by 61% of the vote.)

(Fun Fact #2: Our friends at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel created these two most excellent voting trend maps for your dining and dancing pleasure; they illustrates how Wisconsin can swing wildly back and forth between Republican and Democratic "electoral domination.")

Moving on: Mary Lazich, of the 28th, occupies another seat that is going to be tough to get--her District encompasses Milwaukee's western suburbs (a reliably Republican voting region; in both '04 and '08 Republican presidential candidates won with over 60% of the vote), she did not face an opponent in '08, and this is another district that will require more than 20,000 signatures to force an election.

"...Fate has been hounding me like a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise..."

--A. Whitney Brown, appearing on the television show "Almost Live!"

We're going to complete today's "Recall Roundup" with one of the most vulnerable of all the senators: Dan Kapanke, the Senate Majority Caucus Chair (and a pretty good "get" if you're running a recall campaign). He's from the 32nd, which is all the way across the state from Milwaukee, on the Minnesota border, pretty much in Wisconsin's southwest corner.

He won by less than 3 points in '08, and his District voted 61%-38% for Obama over McCain and 53%-46% for Kerry over Bush in '04, which is the largest margin of any of the eight Republican senators currently under recall threat. (Go back and have another look at those voting trend maps, and look at what's happened to this corner of the state.)

He's hard right on social issues, but the Farm Bureau loves him.

He is quoted as saying that he expects the signature gathering effort in his district to be successful (only about 15,400 signatures are needed) and he's also quoted as having the belief that there is such a thing as a Wisconsin State Senate arrest, despite the presence of an "immunity from arrest" clause in the Wisconsin constitution.

As of March 8th, 57% of voters in the 32nd would rather have "generic" than Kapanke in a recall election, and they had to close the road outside his house on Friday to keep the hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered there safe.

Now before we close today, we need to offer "big ups" to DavidNYC, who posted a fantastic interactive results spreadsheet at the Swing State Project site; we've been referring to it a bunch in this story and you should have a look at it yourself.

And with all that said, that's today's "scorecard", folks, and you can keep track of all the races - or volunteer to help - from one handy location: WisconsinRecall.net. So bookmark the spot, help out any way you can, and let's start with Wisconsin and then move on to Ohio and Indiana and Michigan next.


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Rick Sutton | March 14, 2011 9:43 AM

An excellent post.

We don't have recalls in Indiana--although, in the current climate, I'm pretty sure the far-right would support recall laws.

Generally, I don't favor recalls or referenda. We need to wise-up and elect smart folks to these positions. Conversely, when we elect someone, we need to learn the consequences. I don't know another way except to endure their asshat nonsense.

Recalls keep elected officials on their toes. But the ugly side is: it's far more reactionary and single-issue-driven. Think Iowa Supreme Court justices--gone, after a landmark gay rights ruling. Our "independent judiciary" killed in one state at the drop of a million-dollar Koch donation that funded a "no" campaign.

I'm not sure I'm completely ready for that. Recalls may allow us to exact revenge, but: in the last 50 or so years, when revenge is exacted, anyone out of the "mainstream" (usually white middle-aged straight males) gets co-opted. Or worse.

No answers here, just fears. Sorry if that effs up your Monday.

Great break-down of those races. The important thing now is to make sure people in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) understand exactly what the Republicans were trying to do and to not forget before the next election cycle.

thanks for explaining this don. I'll be passing it along