“NANCY PELOSI AND WASHINGTON, D.C., LIBERALS WANT TO CHOOSE YOUR STATE SENATOR,” blares an ad in the Chicago Tribune online for Sheila Harsdorf, one of six Republican state senators in Wisconsin facing recall in the nationally watched (and nationally funded) election Aug. 9.
The contests were fueled, of course, by the successful effort of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature earlier this year to limit collective bargaining for many state employees in the Badger State. In the state that was one of the first in the nation to permit recall of local elected officials, organized labor and the Democratic Party launched a petition drive to place six Republican senators on the ballot for possible recall.
Walker and the Republicans countered with a petition drive placing three Democratic senators on the recall ballot. One of the Democrats dodged the recall ballot by a comfortable margin two weeks ago. Six senators (all Republicans) will face the political music on Aug. 9, and two more (both Democrats) will be on the ballot on Aug. 16th. At stake is the 19-to-14 seat GOP majority in the senate. Should Democrats hold their own and unseat at least three of the six targeted Republicans, the Senate will flip to Democratic control.
The impact of such a result would unarguably resonate statewide, and very likely, in politics nationwide too. Walker, considered a political star in the GOP universe, would be severely wounded by the loss of his party’s majority in the senate. Such a loss would not only endanger the governor’s conservative agenda but embolden a Democratic effort to recall Walker himself next January (under Wisconsin law, a governor cannot be the subject of a recall attempt until he has been in office at least one year, as Walker will be in January).
But it is inaccurate to say that the results Aug. 9 are a referendum on the Walker effort on collective bargaining. In pushing through a budget that cut $800 million from state aid to education and more than $1 billion in aid to towns and cities, the governor and his Republican allies clearly aroused and angered liberal constituencies for a lot of other reasons, along with the curb on collective bargaining.
“Wisconsin is one of only nineteen states that permits recalls of state lawmakers and it’s only been successful thirteen times in this country’s history,” noted Adam Schrager, producer and reporter for Wisconsin Public Television. “A major political change here could lead to political operatives in other states deciding to launch recall movements to overturn control of a legislative chamber if they don’t get what they want on a particular issue.”
Indeed, the historic nature of removing elected officials for controversial decisions cannot be overlooked—primarily because it is so rare. Because the recall procedure was established in the early 20th century, 18 have adopted it (a 19th state, Illinois, voted recently to allow recall of a governor only), and, as Schrager noted, this would be only the 19th time it has succeeded.
Only two governors have been recalled anywhere (Republican Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921 and Democrat Gray Davis of California in 2003), and the first time any state senators were recalled was in Michigan in 1983.
‘Better Chauffeur Service’ the Key to Victory
Given the nature of the recalls as “high-stakes poker,” it is no surprise to read about the big money that is flowing into the six contests next Tuesday. As of last week, 29 registered interest groups reported spending $12,523,427 in the races. But that’s only part of the story.
“Because so many of the groups involved are C-4s or C-6s, that means they don’t have to disclose who is bankrolling them until after the races are long over,” veteran GOP consultant Scott Becher told HUMAN EVENTS. Becher, who is helping embattled GOP Sen. Dan Kapanke in the LaCrosse-area district, cited as an example a group known as “We are Wisconsin” that is assisting Democratic candidates against Republican incumbents.
In Becher’s words, “ ‘We Are Wisconsin’ is a front group for the AFL-CIO’s big dollars, nothing more.’ ” At this point, outside spending on TV, radio, Internet offensives, and get-out-the-vote drives are estimated at about $20 million.
Privately, more than a few Republican consultants are growing nervous and sensing that organized labor’s years-longer skills at turning out voters in special elections will win the day for them. The nature of the districts targeted by Democrats is also working to their advantage because, as Scott Becher told HUMAN EVENTS, “Democrats cherry-picked the districts they were going after.” In the Oshkosh district, for example, Republican Sen. Randy Hopper was last elected by a slim 189 votes over Democrat Jessica King and now faces a rematch with Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Kane. There are two prisons and a university in the district. In the 2nd District (Green Bay), Republican Sen. Rob Cowles faces a well-known opponent in former Brown County Executive Nancy Nussbaum, who is taking a page from national Democrats and denouncing Republican policy, in which (she charges), “I see the wealthiest people are being benefited. It just is not fair.”
In the end, observers on all sides conclude that the Wisconsin contests next week will likely come down to who gets who’s people out. University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) Political Science Prof. Mordecai Lee may have put it best: “In this battle of the bases, the person who wins the recall is going to be the person with the better chauffeur service. The candidate who has identified their supporters and dragged them to the polls on recall election day. That’s the person who’s going to win the recall.”