Half of Wisconsin State Senate Faces Recall Efforts; Lawsuit Also Filed

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BY KIRSTEN ADSHEAD FOR WISCONSIN REPORTER – MADISON — It appears many in Wisconsin would like an electoral do-over.Paperwork has been filed to recall 16 state senators — Democrats and Republicans — according to the Government Accountability Board, although the paperwork is incomplete in three of those cases.

Those 16 include every single senator who can be recalled this year. The remaining 17 state senators, who won election or re-election last November, are constitutionally protected from recall efforts for the first year of their terms.

“Add this to the list of incredible, astonishing developments that have happened in Wisconsin politics over the past two weeks,” said Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic legislator who now teaches political science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, also faces a lawsuit filed in Oconto County by a constituent, aimed at forcing Holperin back to the Senate chamber.

A message left on Holperin’s cell phone voicemail wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.

The recall efforts are the latest in a string of high-profile developments since Gov. Scott Walker announced his budget repair bill nearly three weeks ago aimed at balancing the state budget, which has a deficit of $137 million.

The legislation, however, removes almost all collective bargaining powers for about 300,000 state and local public employees, though police and firefighters are exempt. The budget provisions have drawn tens of thousands of protesters to the Capitol since the announcement was made. And, it prompted the Senate’s 14 Democrats to leave the state as a means of delaying a vote on the bill.

Republicans hold a 19-14 edge in the Senate. But 20 members need to be present to vote on any fiscal bill, so the GOP needs at least one Democrat to show up in order for a vote on the budget repair bill to be taken.

So far, Democrats’ efforts to delay have worked.

But the price may be the political lives of senators on both sides of the conflict.

Eight Republican senators face recalls: Robert Cowles of Green Bay, Alberta Darling of River Hills, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls,  Luther Olsen of Ripon, Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac,  Glenn Grothman of West Bend, Mary Lazich of New Berlin and Dan Kapanke of La Crosse.

Paperwork also has been filed to recall eight Democrats: Holperin, Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee, Mark Miller of Monona, Robert Wirch of Pleasant Prairie, Julie Lassa of Stevens Point, Fred Risser of Madison and Dave Hansen of Green Bay.

The recall paperwork, however, against Taylor, Lassa and Risser is incomplete.

Supporters of the recall effort have 60 days from the filing of the paperwork to collect enough signatures on petitions to force a recall election. All the initial paperwork has been filed recently, so the deadlines are in late April and early May.

The number of signatures needed on the petitions range from about 12,000 to 20,000.

Dan Hunt of Pleasant Prairie is leading the effort to recall Wirch.

Hunt, who declined to say whether he is affiliated with a political party, said recalls should be used as a last resort.

But since fleeing with the other Democrats to avoid the budget repair bill vote, Hunt said Wirch is no longer doing his job, which is to represent his constituents at the Capitol.

“This (recall effort) would never, ever happen if he hadn’t left the state,” regardless of how Wirch voted on legislation, Hunt said.

Kim Simac of Eagle River said that, for the past two weeks, she has worked almost full time in her efforts to recall Holperin.

A self-identified conservative Republican, Simac said she didn’t vote for Holperin.

Nevertheless, his job is to be on the floor of the Capitol, voting on legislation, including the budget repair bill, she said.

“It was either yes or it was no,” she said. “It wasn’t run away and hide.”

The 14 Senate Democrats have blamed Walker and the Republican leadership for being unwilling to compromise.

That, according to the Democrats, left them no alternative but to leave the state to keep the budget bill from passing.

Mike Tate, chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, on Wednesday asked supporters to donate $60 toward the efforts to recall the eight Republican senators.

“By recalling Republican (s)enators in the next 60 days and retaking the Senate, Democrats will be able to push harder than ever for Wisconsin workers and families and fight back against Walker and his Republican allies,” Tate said in a statement.

Lee, the political scientist, said most of the recall efforts will fizzle out.

But the extent of the recall push is “a reflection of the seriousness of what’s going on in Madison,” he said.

“This has really tapped into very deep feelings by grassroots voters, whether Democrats or Republicans,” Lee said.

There also is talk of recalling the governor – “Recall Walker” is a frequent chant among Capitol protesters. But Walker can’t be recalled this year because he didn’t take office until Jan. 3.