On Tuesday Democrats and liberal activists turned in over one-million signatures to recall Scott Walker. They also turned in 845,000 signatures to recall Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and enough signatures to trigger recall elections against 4 GOP state senators. Senate control hangs precariously as the GOP currently has a 17-16 edge.
This recall election will mark the second recall election in a year for Wisconsin and the third heated election in less than two years for the state’s voters.
Last year, in April, the state had a regularly scheduled Supreme Court election. Usually the election would be a sleepy affair but the election came right on the heels of passage of the GOP legislature’s and Walker’s controversial CBA reform bill. Unions and Democrats were infuriated and hoped to overturn the law. At the time the court was widely perceived to be divided 5-4 with conservatives holding the edge. Thus, instead of a sleepy Supreme Court race for Justice David Prosser the race became a referendum (one of many) on Walker’s CBA reform bill. Liberal activist JoAnne Kloppenburg was nominated in the primary to challenge Prosser and she became the figurehead for stopping Walker.
The election came down to the wire with Prosser narrowly winning. Democrats and the left screamed foul when the Waukesha County Chair, who had ties to Scott Walker, reported she had not counted a number of ballots. Until then Kloppenburg had a narrow 240 vote lead but when the new votes were counted Prosser jumped out into a 7,000 vote lead. Kloppenburg decided not to challenge the results. Shortly after the state Supreme Court upheld the CBA reform bill.
But unions and the left were not done. Still infuriated at what Walker had done, and doubly so due to what they saw as being cheated out of an election, the left started collecting signatures to recall six GOP state senators. At that time the state senate was 19-14 in favor of the GOP. The recall effort resulted in six GOP state senators were put on the ballot while conservative activists put three Democratic state senators on the ballot.
The elections were held over the summer of the 2011 on different dates. The bulk of the recall elections were held on August 9th with all six of the targeted GOP senators being up for recall. Due to the way Wisconsin recall elections work they actually faced an opponent on the ballot. In some states the ballot simply asks a yes or no question to retain the recalled official.
The result was the GOP narrowly held onto their majority, winning four of the six races. State senators Dan Kapanke and Luther Olsen were defeated. Kapanke represented a heavily unionized district and Olsen had martial issues. But none of the other four GOP incumbents lost, though some won very narrowly. None of the three Democratic state senators up for recall were successfully recalled.
Both sides claimed victory in the fight. Yet for the left apparently their victory was incomplete. Soon after the state Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO announced they would try to recall Walker, the Lt. Governor and more state senators. On January 17th an overwhelming number of signatures were turned in to force yet another recall election.
The sheer number of signatures turned in suggests there is still anger and worry among many voters in Wisconsin about CBA reform. Unions and Democrats continue to be fired up and fully funded. Furthermore the left has an axe to grind against Walker for his actions on a host of other issues, including strengthening gun ownership laws and cutting social programs.
Because Wisconsin recall elections require the opposing party to have a candidate, Walker, his Lt. Governor and the four targeted state senators have had time to raise money. As Democrats pick candidates to face their recall targets Walker and his allies will have even more time to gather resources.
Of the four targeted GOP state senators only three are in any real danger. All three of the endangered incumbents are freshman state senators and narrowly won their elections in 2010 with a GOP wave at their back. But Democrats also need to field candidates to challenge these lawmakers, lawmakers who have made inroads with their districts constituents.
Walker could face any number of possible opponents. His 2010 opponent, Mayor Tom Barrett could try for a rematch. He could also face a number of state legislators or even Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who in April 2011 while the state Supreme Court election was occurring won her seat. Falk has a history of losing elections. She lost her 2002 bid for the governorship and then was defeated in 2006 for secretary of state. Walker could also face former US Rep. David Obey.
Recent polling by PPP on the Democratic primary suggests that Barrett would start out as the favorite if he ran. His comments on the topic sure make it sound like he will.
When the recall elections will be held is up in the air. Both the state GOP and Democratic parties, as well as individual lawmakers, have multiple lawsuits pending. Democrats want all the recall elections held on the same day. This could conceivably make it easier for state senate candidates to capitalize on anti-Walker anger and drive more voters to the polls. The state GOP wants the elections to be held separately and as late as possible to mitigate anti-Walker anger in the state senate elections and raise unlimited funds until the Democratic primary is complete. Under state law this is permissible.
For Wisconsin this will be the third heated election in less than two years. The left will claim they are justified and mobilize even union and Democratic support. Meanwhile, Walker and his GOP allies will rely heavily on outside conservative support as well as sophisticated get out the vote efforts. Either way, the results of this election are unlikely to truly solve the vast partisan and ideological chasm that exists in Wisconsin.
Update: On 1/18/12 Falk said she would run against Walker. She, along with four other candidates were interviewed by the state’s largest public employee union. The union is hoping to clear the primary field after they have endorsed a nominee to not give Walker and the GOP any lines of attack that come out of a divisive primary.