Moving From Retreat to Recall

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BY JOHN FUND – Democrats in Wisconsin’s state Senate are looking for a face-saving way of ending their self-imposed exile. They have apparently convinced themselves that GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial changes to union work rules are so unpopular that voters will respond to recall efforts against Republican legislators and hand them back control of the state Senate this summer.

“I think we have to realize that there’s only so much we can do as a group to make a stand,” Democratic State Sen. Bob Jauch told reporters over the weekend. “It’s really up to the public to be engaged in carrying the torch on this issue.”


To that end, union allies of the Democrats have launched formal recall campaigns against eight Republican state senators — all that are legally eligible to be recalled this year. In response, Republicans have initiated moves to recall eight Democrats.

Expect a series of recall elections to be held this summer, although some of the targeted legislators will escape due to the high number of signatures and compressed timeframe for collecting them that Wisconsin imposes. “A lot of effort is going to be expended by both sides,” says Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state GOP. “You’ll see national money. It’s going to generate a lot of passion.”

But the odds are against successful recalls by either party. Only three times in U.S. history has more than one state legislator been successfully recalled at the same time over the same issue: in Idaho in the 1970s over a legislative pay raise; in the 1980s in Michigan over a tax hike; and in the 1990s in California after two GOP state legislators cooperated in an effort to keep a Democrat as speaker of the state Assembly. Just two state lawmakers have ever been successfully recalled in Wisconsin.

The recall efforts will succeed or fail in part based on how Gov. Walker’s proposed changes are viewed after they are implemented. A poll by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute shows that a small majority of the public is currently opposed to the governor’s plan.

Mr. Jefferson acknowledges that “the millions of dollars in national union money for advertising have been effective at getting the union message out.” But he says the political climate could change quickly if the public sees the state budget situation stabilizing in coming months and local governments are able to avoid raising property taxes as a result of Gov. Walker’s collective-bargaining reforms.