2012 Elections preview: Control of Wisconsin Senate to be determined by recalls

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June 4, 2012

By: Greg Janetka


MADISON, Wisconsin: The fate of three incumbent Republican state senators, along with the balance of power in the chamber, will be determined tomorrow as one fiercely partisan chapter in Wisconsin's history winds to a close. A fourth senator, Pam Galloway (R), was also recalled, but resigned, leaving her seat vacant. Polls will be open from 7 a.m to 8 p.m CST.[1] Sample ballots are available on the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's website.

Six recalls took place in 2011, with Democrats picking up two seats. The Senate is currently tied 16-16, with one vacancy. Thus, the recalls will determine who controls the chamber.[2] The recalls were sparked by collective-bargaining reforms passed by Republicans in 2011.[3]

Party As of April 2015
     Democratic Party 14
     Republican Party 19
Total 33

With Gov. Scott Walker (R) and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch also standing for recall, GAB is predicting voter turnout between 60-65 percent - well above the number who showed up for the 2010 general election. According to GAB, the highest turnout in the last 50 years for a November gubernatorial election was 52.4 percent way back in 1962.[4]

Here is an overview of the senate races set to take place on tomorrow.

Senate District 13

Sen. Scott Fitzgerald
See also: Scott Fitzgerald recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2012)

State Senator Scott Fitzgerald (R) will face Lori Compas (D) and Terry Virgil (L) in the recall. Compas defeated protest candidate Gary Ellerman in the Democratic primary.

Compas was a leader in the recall drive against Fitzgerald, receiving minimal support from the state Democratic Party.[5] Fitzgerald is running on his record, saying reforms by Republicans are working. "You've got more people working, more revenue being generated as income tax is collected and you also have that unemployment rate dropping, so those two things I think in concert, kind of, I think demonstrate that Wisconsin is definitely moving in the right direction," he said.[6]

Senate District 21

Sen. Van Wanggaard
See also: Van Wanggaard recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2012)

State Senator Van Wanggaard (R) will face former State Sen. John Lehman (D) in the recall. Wanggaard defeated Lehman by 3,376 votes in 2010 to win his current seat.[7] Lehman defeated protest candidate Tamra Varebrook in the Democratic primary.

The race has been a close one, with recent polling showing it to be a dead heat.[8] It has also been an expensive one. According to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, independent groups have spent more than $1 million in the race, while Wanggaard has reported raising $251,000 and Lehman $173,700.[9]

Senate District 23

Sen. Terry Moulton
See also: Terry Moulton recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2012)

State Senator Terry Moulton (R) will face former state legislator Kristen Dexter (D) in the recall. Dexter served in the Assembly from 2009-2011. She defeated Moulton in 2008 to win the District 68 seat.[10] Dexter lost her re-election bid in 2010 by less than 100 votes to Republican Kathy Bernier following a recount.[11]

Dexter defeated protest candidate James Engel in the Democratic primary on May 8. Moulton says the difference between the two couldn't be clearer. "I think we're polar opposites. I believe state government ought to serve the taxpayers, and I believe that Kristen Dexter believes the taxpayers need to serve government... Kristen has never seen a tax increase that she didn't like," he said.[12]

Senate District 29

Former Sen. Pam Galloway
See also: Pam Galloway recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2012)

State Senator Pam Galloway (R) was successfully recalled but resigned her seat on March 16. Officials with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board declared the recall would proceed. State Reps. Jerry Petrowski (R) and Donna Seidel (D) are vying for the seat. Seidel defeated protest candidate James Buckley in the Democratic primary.

Both Petrowski and Seidel are well known in the district and the race has been seen as pivotal. Petrowski supported Walker's decision to limit collective bargaining by public unions and is highlighting his fiscal conservative record. Meanwhile, Seidel has campaigned on working to undue the changes to bargaining, pushing for affordable health care, and supporting the state's education system.[13]


Here is a short timeline of the events that have led to the recalls:

See also: Timeline of events of the recall of Wisconsin State Senators in 2012


  • February 15: Assembly Bill 11, better known as the "Scott Walker Budget Repair Bill" is introduced by the request of the governor. Massive protests are held. Two days later all 14 Democratic senators walkout. The bill is passed by the Assembly on the 25th.
  • March 9: Senate Republicans amend the bill, passing the revised version which includes limits on collective bargaining. Two days later Walker signs the Budget Repair Bill into law.
  • April-June: Organizers successfully collect signatures to put nine recall elections against state senators on the ballot. Three target Democratic incumbents while six target Republicans. Fitzgerald, Wanggaard, Moulton and Galloway are not eligible for recall until 2012.
  • July 19: Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen retains his seat in a recall election.
  • August 9: Recall elections were held against Republican incumbents Robert Cowles, Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper, and Dan Kapanke. Darling, Harsdorf and Olsen held on to their seats, while Hopper and Kapanke were defeated. Republicans held onto control of the Senate by a margin of 17-16.
  • August 16: Recall elections were held against Democratic incumbents Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch. Both successfully held onto their seats.
  • November 15: Organizers begin collecting signatures against Republican Sens. Van Wanggaard, Scott Fitzgerald, Terry Moulton and Pam Galloway.[14]


See also


  1. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Recall Elections June 5," accessed June 4, 2012
  2. Channel 3000, "Wisconsin Democrats counting on recall elections to win state Senate control," May 26, 2012
  3. Washington Post, "Wisconsin recall: Two potential surprises," June 4, 2012
  4. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Voter Turnout Estimated at 60 to 65 percent for June 5 Recall Election," May 29, 2012
  5. The Progressive, "The Woman Behind the Recall of Wis. Sen. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald," January 18, 2012
  6. NBC 15, "Compas and Fitzgerald Talk About Tuesday's ShowDown," June 3, 2012
  7. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Official 2010 General election results," accessed April 25, 2014
  8. Todays TMJ4, "Racine state Senate recall goes down to wire," June 3, 2012
  9. The Journal Times, "More than $1 million spent on Wanggaard-Lehman race," June 2, 2012
  10. Leader-Telegram, "Dexter to challenge state Sen. Moulton in recall," January 30, 2012
  11. Chippewa Herald, "Update: Recount has Bernier beating Dexter by 78 votes", November 16, 2010
  12. Leader Telegram, "23rd Senate recall candidates see big divide," June 2, 2012
  13. Central Wisconsin Hub, "29th Senate District race seen as pivotal for state," June 2, 2012
  14. FOX 6 Now, "Recall paperwork filed Tuesday for four senators, including Van Wanggaard," November 15, 2011
  15. Channel 3000, "Target Met To Recall Senate Leader Fitzgerald," January 17, 2012
  16. WQOW, "Moulton recall organizers turning in signatures," January 17, 2012
  17. Wausau Daily Herald, "Updated: Galloway recall organizers collect 21,000 signatures," January 17, 2012
  18. Madison.com, "Wanggaard recall organizers submit more than 24,000 signatures," January 17, 2012
  19. The Journal Times, "Wis. board orders recalls against 4 GOP senators," March 12, 2012
  20. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "State Sen. Galloway to resign, leaving Senate split," accessed March 16, 2012
  21. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "4 Democrats easily win Senate primaries," May 9, 2012
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