Robert Wirch recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2011)

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Robert Wirch

Senators Facing Recall
Robert CowlesAlberta DarlingSheila HarsdorfDave HansenJim HolperinRandy HopperDan KapankeLuther OlsenRobert Wirch

Other Recall Information
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A campaign to recall Robert Wirch, a member of the Democratic Party, from his elected position representing District 22 in the Wisconsin State Senate took place in 2011. Wirch defeated Republican Jonathan Steitz in the recall election on August 16.

Path to the ballot

About 18,300 signatures to recall Wirch were filed on April 21, 2011. Signatures were filed against nine different state senators in Wisconsin while a total of sixteen were originally targeted for recall.[1] Challenges to the petition were set to be reviewed by the board on May 31[2], but delayed until June 8.

After hearing challenges to the petitions made by the incumbents, as well as presentations from the respective recall committees and board staff, the Board certified 17,138 signatures to recall Wirch,[3], approving the election for July 19. Since multiple candidates filed, however, a primary was held on July 19 with the recall on August 16.

Location of Wisconsin State Senate District 22
Map of Wisconsin Senate District 22


Wirch defeated Steitz in the recall on August 16.

Kenosha County Board supervisor Fred Ekornaas said he would run against Wirch if a recall election happened.[4] Attorney Jonathan Steitz announced his bid on May 17, 2011.[5]

Dan Hunt, the organizer of the recall campaign, was said have considered running.[6]

Steitz defeated Ekornaas in the July 19 primary.

July 19 Republican primary[7]
Candidates Votes Percent
Jonathan Steitz Approveda 5,981 61.06%
Fred Ekornaas 3,369 34.39%
Scattering 446 4.55%

Wirch defeated Steitz in the recall.

August 16 Recall - District 22[8]
Candidates Votes Percent
Robert Wirch (D) Green check mark transparent.png 25,524 57.35%
Jonathan Steitz (R) 19,662 42.51%
Brian Harwood (Write-in) 23 .05%
Scattering 42 .09%


Jonathan Steitz’s campaign issued a call on July 25 for Wirch to debate the issues. According to a press release from Steitz, three organizations - the Kenosha Area Business Association, the American Association of University Women, and WLIP radio - invited the candidates to take part in debates, but Wirch did not respond. “Wirch is unwilling to stand on his record so he can avoid public discussion at all costs," Steitz said.[9]

Wirch and Steitz took part in a Journal Times online forum on August 10, answering questions from readers. Their responses showed clear differences in the candidates, starting with their views on the recall itself. Wirch called it "a waste of taxpayer money put on by radical elements in the Republican Party," while Steitz said, "I believe that a recall is appropriate when an elected official fails to do his job and abdicates his responsibility to represent us in Madison."[10] When asked their top priority, both said jobs, but greatly differed on the means to that end. Steitz called for a simpler tax code with overall reduced taxes, along with reduced regulations in order to promote competition. Wirch advocated for education that would lead to a well-trained workforce.

Ads relating to the campaign

Petition challenged

On May 5, lawyers for Wirch submitted a 17-page document detailing their challenge to the petition to recall the senator. They argued that petitions circulated by recruited, paid circulators are invalid because they were paid per signature, as well as being rife with "fraud, misrepresentation, and other improprieties."[11] Democrats said, of 225 people they contacted who had signed the petition, 6.6% said they were misled into signing or never actually signed.[12]

The Recall Wirch group responded by filing a 50+ page rebuttal challenging the challenge.

Certification challenge delays

On May 27, 2011, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board announced it would be unable to consider the recall petitions for the three Democratic incumbents at the May 31, 2011 meeting. Citing "numerous factual and legal issues," the Board said in its statement that more time was needed to ensure that a complete record would be available for examination -- particularly since the decision would likely be appealed to the courts.[13]

In a release, the GAB officials said they did not expect to be able to hold a hearing on the recalls of Democratic incumbents until the week of June 6, which raised potential legal issues, as the initial extension granted to GAB for certification required it to ultimately make determinations before June 3.[13]

The board went ahead with hearings on May 31 for the recalls of Republican incumbents Sheila Harsdorf, Robert Cowles and Alberta Darling.[14] Officials released a 125-page memo on May 27, 2011 concerning the signatures and legal challenges.

The GAB filed a brief on June 1 asking the court for a one-week extension, which would give them until June 10 to finish working on the three Democratic recalls. The case was heard in Dane County Court at 1:30 pm on Friday, June 3.[15][16] Dane County Judge John Markson ruled that there was good cause for the extension, and that the GAB did not violate any rules by taking up the petitions out of order.[17]

Ultimately, on June 8, after nearly 9 hours of deliberations, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board certified the recalls of three Democratic incumbents and set an initial election for July 19.[18]

Name forged

It was revealed in late April that one of the signatures on the recall Wirch petition was Bill Pocan, the father of Democratic state Rep. Mark Pocan. However, Bill Pocan had been dead for 20 years. The chair of the recall committee, Dan Hunt, said the name did appear to be forged, but accused Democrats of signing it to try to invalidate the petition.[19]

Legal challenges

Following the certification of the recall petitions against the three targeted Democrats on June 8, Jeremy Levinson, attorney for the incumbent Democrats, did not immediately indicate whether an appeal would be filed based on the GAB’s ruling.[20] Soon after, the party appealed the decision with the Dane County Circuit Court due to what they said was widespread fraud.

State Chairman Mike Tate said, "The GAB agreed that out-of-state circulators hired by the Republican Party to gather recall signatures committed repeated and flagrant acts of election fraud upon the people of Wisconsin. A higher authority should review this stunning conspiracy to defraud the voters, and throw out all the signatures gathered by these deceitful circulators."[21]

While thousands of signatures were rejected by the Board, Democrats said that if Wisconsin statutes were followed to the letter there would not be enough signatures for any of the recalls.[22]

After hearing arguments on July 8, Judge Richard Niess ruled that all of the nine recalls should proceed, saying that election officials had already thoroughly and correctly addressed the complaints.[23]


Conducted August 12-14

August 16, 2011 Recall - District 22 - Daily Kos/PPP Poll[24]
Candidate Party Percent
Robert Wirch Electiondot.png Democratic 55%
Jonathan Steitz Ends.png Republican 42%
Undecided 3%

Campaign contributions

Candidate fundraising

An investigation by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found Wirch's campaign report failed to disclose occupation and/or employer information about 5 campaign contributions totaling $1,225.[25]

Robert Wirch Campaign Finance Reports (GAB ID No. 102813)
Report Date Filed Beginning Balance Total Contributions (Expenditures) Cash on Hand
Special Pre-Election[26] August 8, 2011 $141,752.51 $53,427.35 $(103,491.98) $91,687.88
July Continuing[27] July 11, 2011 $100,032.70 $130,805.68 $(91,616.87) $139,221.51
Special Pre-Election[28] April 25, 2011 $93,205.86 $7,937.53 $(136.00) $101,007.39
Spring Pre-Election[29] March 28, 2011 $52,850.99 $43,027.42 $(2,672.55) $93,205.86

The following political action committees have made donations to Alberta Darling:

  • Capital Area Uniserv North PAC
  • Centene Corporation PAC
  • Friends of Paul Fisk
  • International Brotherhood Boilermakers Campaign Assistance Fund
  • Lakewood Uniserve Council PAC
  • Northwest United Educators PAC
  • Oconomowoc Education Association
  • Plumbers/Steamfitters 434 PAC
  • Rock Valley Education Professionals
  • Sheet Metal Workers International Association Political Action League
  • South Lakes United Educators Politically Active and Concerned
  • West Central Education Association PAC
  • Winnebagoland Uniserv PAC

Official reports

Recall committees

As of the April 25, 2011, Taxpayers to Recall Robert Wirch has raised $12,783.52 and spent $11,639.37.

Taxpayers to Recall Robert Wirch Campaign Finance Reports (GAB ID No. 102813)
Report Date Filed Beginning Balance Total Contributions (Expenditures) Cash on Hand
Special Pre-Election[30] April 25, 2011 $6,535.11 $2,040.00 $(7,430.96) $1,144.15
Spring Pre-Election[31] March 28, 2011 $0.00 $10,743.52 $(4,208.41) $6.535.11

Additional reading

Official documents

The following documents are attributed to the Wirch recall and have been publicized by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.



See also

External links


  1. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Recall petitions filed against 4 lawmakers," April 21, 2011
  2. Talking Points Memo, "Wis. Elections Staff Recommend Recalls Against Three GOPers," May 20, 2011
  3. WisPolitics, "Dem recalls certified," June 8, 2011
  4. 620 WTMJ, "Capitol Chaos: Possible Challenger in Recall Election," May 9, 2011
  5. Post Crescent, "Democrats get new recall challengers," May 19, 2011
  6. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Kenosha County Board vice chair announces recall run against Wirch," May 7, 2011
  7. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "July 19 Primary Election Results District 22," accessed August 11, 2011
  8. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "District 22 recall election results," accessed August 26, 2011
  9. WisPolitics, “Steitz Campaign: Wirch ducking debates with Steitz,” July 25, 2011
  10. The Journal Times, "Wirch and Steitz battling to the finish during JT online forum," August 11, 2011
  11. Memorandum in support Of Sen. Wirch's Challenge to Petitions, May 5, 2011
  12. Democratic Party of Wisconsin, "GOP Election Fraud Exposed," May 5, 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Review of recall petitions going slowly; July 12 election in doubt," May 27, 2011
  14. Greenfield Reporter, "Wis. election officials delay decision on recall petitions for Dems, may need date change," May 27, 2011
  15. WisPolitics, "GAB formally asks judge for more time to consider recall petitions against Dems," June 1, 2011
  16. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "State board requests more time to review recall petitions," June 1, 2011
  17. NBC 15, "UPDATE: Judge Grants Week Extension for Recall Review," June 3, 2011
  18. WISN, “GAB Certifies 3 Democratic Recall Elections,” June 8, 2011 (dead link)
  19. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Regional News Briefs," April 29, 2011
  20. WFRV “Wis. elections board trims petition signatures,” June 8, 2011
  21. WisPolitics, "WisDems: Dems to appeal GAB decision on widespread GOP election fraud," June 15. 2011
  22., "Dems: Throw out recall petitions," June 15. 2011
  23. WUWM, "Judges Rules Senate Recalls Can Proceed," July 8, 2011
  24. ‘’Daily Kos, “Wisconsin recalls: Democrats hold double-digit leads in final 2 races,” August 15, 2011
  25. FDL Reporter, 'State group files campaign finance complaints against 3 recall targets,” June 7, 2011
  26. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Friends of Robert W. Wirch," August 8, 2011
  27. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Friends of Robert W. Wirch," July 11, 2011
  28. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Friends of Robert W. Wirch," April 25, 2011
  29. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Friends of Robert W. Wirch," March 28, 2011
  30. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Taxpayers to Recall Robert W. Wirch," April 25, 2011
  31. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Taxpayers to Recall Robert W. Wirch," March 28, 2011