Van Wanggaard recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2012)

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An effort to recall Van Wanggaard, a member of the Republican Party, from his elected position representing District 21 in the Wisconsin State Senate was launched on November 15, 2011.[1] Supporters of the recall submitted over 24,000 signatures on January 17, 2012. The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board voted unanimously on March 12 to order the recall, determining that at least 19,142 of the signatures were valid.[2]

Wanggaard was defeated by John Lehman in the recall election on June 5. A primary took place on May 8.[3]

Unofficial results showed John Lehman (D) won the election by 779 votes and he declared victory. Wanggaard considered a recount - the county's board of canvassars had until June 15 to submit final vote totals.[4] With the official canvass showing Lehman winning by 834 votes, Wanggaard called for a recount on June 15.[5] Final tallies released July 2 showed Lehman won by 819 votes - 36,358 to 35,539.[6] On July 10, Wanggaard announced he would not file a lawsuit, allowing the results to stand.[7]

Randy Brandt, treasurer for the Committee to Recall Wanggaard, said the recall was launched "because of Wanggaard’s support for Gov. Scott Walker in the governor’s 'assault on working-class families.'"[8]

Jane Witt, chair-elect of the Democratic Party of Racine County, said the recall goes beyond following Walker's agenda. "Senator Wanggaard is not paying attention to the needs of his district or listening to his constituents," she said.[9]

Wanggaard said of the recall, "It's amazing that is what they are going to do considering all of the legislation I have authored is bipartisan ... This has been their goal since I was elected. The people are going to have to make that decision."[8]


See also: Timeline of events of the recall of Wisconsin State Senators in 2012
  • November 15, 2011: Democrats file recall petition against Van Wanggaard.
  • December 18, 2011: The campaign to recall Wanggaard announce they have collected more than the required number of signatures to force a recall.
  • January 17, 2012: Organizers turn in some 24,000 signatures to recall Wanggaard to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
  • January 31: Former state Sen. John Lehman (D) announces he will challenge Wanggaard if a recall is scheduled
  • February 9: Wanggaard files a challenge, contesting 7,491 signatures.
  • March 12: GAB votes unanimously to order a recall election.
  • March 14: Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess signs an agreement scheduling the primary for May 8 with general election on June 5.
  • May 8: John Lehman defeats Tamra Varebrook to win the Democratic primary.
  • June 5: Unofficial results show John Lehman (D) won the election by 779 votes and he declared victory. Wanggaard considers recount.
  • June 15: Wanggaard calls for a recount.
  • July 2: Results of the recount show Wanggaard lost by 819 votes.
  • July 10: Wanggaard says he will not file a lawsuit, allowing the results to stand.

Path to the ballot

The Committee to Recall Van Wanggaard filed paperwork to begin a recall effort on November 15, 2011. They needed to collect 15,353 valid signatures within 60 days to force a recall. In late November Brad Wojciechowski, communications director for the State Senate Democratic Committee, said “We are very happy with the amount of signatures collected at this point and we are on pace to collect the necessary amount needed to force a recall against Sen. Van Wanggaard." Specific figures were not released.[10]

On December 18, the campaign to recall Wanggaard announced they had collected more than the required number of signatures to force a recall.[11] Organizers submitted over 24,000 signatures on January 17, 2012.[12]

In response, Wanggaard said he would continue to do his job, stating, "The people of Racine and Wisconsin are tired of being divided, angry at the political fighting and frustrated with Madison. That is part of the reason I ran for the State Senate 15 months ago, and after being in the Capitol for a year, I still join them in their disappointment and frustration."[13]

Signature verification

Under state law, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has 31 days to determine if enough valid signatures were submitted to force a recall. However, with 1.9 million signatures to review for six recalls, they asked a judge for extra time on January 20, 2012. Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess granted the extension on January 25, giving the board an additional 30 days.[14]

The state purchased software from Artsyl Technologies to help with the process. Workers scanned the petitions into computers and the software read the names and converted them into type. A human operator verified the name, correcting any errors before it was entered into a database. The databases could then be used to check for duplicate signatures.[15]

The petitions were processed in a secret location, but a webcam was set up to provide a live feed of the work.[16]

Under state law, Wanggaard had only 10 days to challenge the validity of the petitions starting on January 18. However, as GAB officials were not able to readily provide Wanggaard with the signatures against him, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess extended the period to 20 days.[17]

Signature challenge

Wanggaard filed a signature challenge on February 9, questioning 7,491 signatures. According to the challenge, the signatures were either listed more than once or illegible, or the signers were not of legal age or otherwise ineligible to vote. The Committee to Recall Wanggaard said they were confident they had enough signatures.[18]


Wanggaard faced John Lehman in the recall on June 5, 2012.

Recall of Wisconsin State Senator Van Wanggaard, 2012
Party Candidate Vote % Votes
     Republican Van Wanggaard Incumbent 49.4% 35,517
     Democratic John Lehman 50.5% 36,351
     - Scattering 0.1% 56
Total Votes 71,924
Source: Wisconsin Government Accountability Board

On January 31, 2012, former state Sen. John Lehman (D) announced he would challenge Wanggaard in a recall election if one was called. Wanggaard defeated Lehman in 2010 to win his current seat.

Wisconsin State Senate, District 21 (2010) General Election
Candidates Votes Percent
Green check mark transparent.png Van Wanggaard (R) 32,306 52.52%
John Lehman (D) 28,930 47.43%

In response to the announcement, Wanggaard issued a press release, stating, "From the moment I took office last January, my singular focus has been on reversing the job loss that occurred under John Lehman's watch by laying the groundwork for job creation. We've eliminated John Lehman and Jim Doyle's $3.6 billion structural deficit, paid our bills and balanced the budget without raising taxes."[19]

Lehman said he planned on debating Wanggaard if there was an election, but Wanggaard said he was not planning to engage in any public debates.[20]

On March 12, Andrew Mielke filed papers to run as a Democrat, meaning he would face Lehman in a primary election.[21] However, Mielke did not file nominating papers by the April 10, 2012 deadline.[22]

Tamra Varebrook is a Republican but ran as a Democrat in order to ensure a primary in the race. The state GOP announced in March that they would be recruiting protest candidates for the primaries to make sure the recalls would all happen on the same day.[23] Lehman easily defeated Varebrook in the primary.[24]

Wisconsin State Senate District 21 Recall - Democratic Primary Democratic Primary, 2012
Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngJohn Lehman 67.8% 20,284
Tamra Varebrook 31.8% 9,513
Scattering 0.4% 122
Total Votes 29,919

Legal issues

Recalls in old districts or new?

On November 18, 2011, a group of citizens asked a federal court to make sure that the recall elections took place in the old districts where the legislators were elected from, rather than the newly drawn districts.[25] Three days later, a group of Republicans asked the state Supreme Court to require any recall elections take place in the new districts. The new districts, drawn by the Republican majority, would help the GOP.[26]

During the first week of November Republicans in the Senate attempt to fast-track a bill that would have immediately implemented the new Senate districts while allowing the old Assembly districts to remain. A vote on the bill was indefinitely delayed when Republican Sen. Dale Schultz said he would not vote for it, denying the necessary majority.

Republicans filed a second lawsuit in Waukesha County on November 29, requesting a panel of three circuit court judges hear the case. The new GOP suit was filed to make sure proper procedures are followed in the case.[27] On December 2, Republicans asked to withdraw their first lawsuit, a move Democrats immediately tried to block, saying the court should keep the case and dismiss it at a later date. The request came after it was known that Justice David Prosser, sidelined with an illness, would not take part in the case.[28] That same day, Republicans amended their complaint, requesting a single Waukesha County judge hear the case, rather than the three-judge panel.[29]

Three days later, Republicans announced they were switching lawyers in the case, from the law firm of Michael, Best and Friedrich, to attorney Michael Dean. Michael, Best and Friedrich was the same firm used by Republicans during the redistricting process.[30]

Walker lawsuit

On December 15, Governor Scott Walker's campaign and the state Republican Party director filed suit against the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in Waukesha County Circuit Court. The lawsuit asks that a judge require GAB to search for and strike duplicate signatures, fake names and illegible addresses.

Stephan Thompson, executive director of the state Republican Party, stated, "The decision of one individual who chooses to sign a recall petition should not carry more weight than the decision of another who chooses not to sign. This lawsuit seeks to protect the Wisconsin electors whose voices have been trumped by those purposefully signing multiple petitions."[31]

Currently, GAB reviews signatures to ensure there are enough to trigger a recall and verify they include a Wisconsin address and are dated during the recall period. It is up to challengers to point out potential issues with signatures.[32]

On December 20, The Recall Walker Committee, as well as the committees to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and three Republican state senators, filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the suit. They argued that the suit was designed to create uncertainty, disruptions and expenses in the recall process.[33] At a hearing on December 29, Judge Mac Davis, a former Republican state Senator, denied the motion to intervene, citing the need for speed and desire to avoid possible "chaos" that could come if new parties were allowed in the case.[34]

Davis issued a ruling on January 5, 2012, stating that GAB must take "reasonable" actions to eliminate duplicate and illegal signatures from recall petitions. However, he gave them discretion to decide how to achieve that, noting that requiring such action "is limited by the resources and ability they have or are reasonably able to obtain." GAB Director Kevin Kennedy said they will have to discuss the decision in order to determine what procedures in their process they will need to change.[35]

On February 3, the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Madison overturned the ruling that denied recall organizers from joining the suit, stating that they had a valid interest to join. The ruling also threw out Judge Davis' decision that GAB must actively seek to strike fake and duplicate signatures. The case went back to Davis.[36]

Campaign contributions

Van Wanggaard Campaign Finance Reports (GAB ID No. 0104422)
Report Date Filed Beginning Balance Total Contributions (Expenditures) Cash on Hand
Special Pre-Primary 2012 report[37] April 30, 2012 $112,759.46 $130,657.26 $(52,383.59) $191,033.13
Recall 60 day report[38] January 23, 2012 $94,326.49 $19,995.00 $(1,562.03) $112,759.46
January Continuing report[39] January 23, 2012 $53,154.87 $44,211.00 $(3,039.38) $94,326.49
Recall 30 day report[40] December 15, 2011 $26,438.87 $37,121.00 $(10,405.00) $53,154.87

Ads relating to the campaign

Additional reading

Official documents


In June 2013, Wanggaard announced that he would seek to reclaim his state senate position from John Lehman.[41]

See also

External links


  1. FOX 6 Now, "Recall paperwork filed Tuesday for four senators, including Van Wanggaard," November 15, 2011
  2. The Journal Times, "Wis. board orders recalls against 4 GOP senators," March 12, 2012
  3. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Recall votes set for May 8 and June 5," March 14, 2012
  4. WAOW, "Wanggaard still not conceding election," June 6, 2012
  5. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wanggaard calls for recount in Senate recall race," June 15, 2012
  6. Chicago Tribune, "Recount: Dem wins Wisconsin Senate recall," July 2, 2012
  7. Huffington Post, "Van Wanggaard, Republican Wisconsin State Senator, Drops Recount Appeal," July 10, 2012
  8. 8.0 8.1, "Local Democratic Committee Forms To Recall Sen. Van Wanggaard," November 15, 2011
  9. Caledonia Patch, "Racine Democrats Say Reasons for Wanggaard Recall Go Beyond Budget Repair," December 5, 2011
  10. The Journal Times, "Wanggaard recall ‘on pace,’ Dems say but no numbers released," November 23, 2011
  11. Dane 101, "Total Recall: Enough signatures for Wanggaard recall, other Senate recalls close or on track," December 19, 2011
  12., "Wanggaard recall organizers submit more than 24,000 signatures," January 17, 2012
  13. Mount Pleasant Patch, "Wanggaard Responds to Recall Signatures," January 17, 2012
  14. Green Bay Press Gazette, "Judge extends recall verification period," January 25, 2012
  15. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Software for recall petition database needs human assistance," January 21, 2012
  16. News 8000, "Webcam set up for Walker recall signature review," January 10, 2012
  17. ABC 7, "Judge gives Wis. gov more time to challenge recall," January 25, 2012
  18. The Journal Times, "Wanggaard submits recall challenge," February 9, 2012
  19. Journal Times, "Lehman to run against Wanggaard in likely recall," January 31, 2012
  20. The Journal Times, "Lehman wants debates in likely recall, but Wanggaard not debating," February 6, 2012
  21. Mount Pleasant Patch, "Another Candidate Files Papers For Senate Seat," March 12, 2012
  22. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "2012 MAY 8 RECALL PRIMARY/ELECTION Candidates Registered," accessed April 16, 2012
  23. Caledonia Patch, "GOP's Official Protest Candidate Files Papers for the 21st District," April 3, 2012
  24. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "4 Democrats easily win Senate primaries," May 9, 2012
  25. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Group asks court to ensure recall elections are held in old Senate districts," November 21, 2011
  26. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Republicans sue to place recalls in new districts," November 21, 2011
  27. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Republicans file second suit seeking new districts for recalls," November 30, 2011
  28. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Republicans withdraw redistricting lawsuit with state Supreme Court," December 2, 2011
  29. Courthouse News Service, "Dueling Claims over Wisconsin Redistricting," December 5, 2011
  30. The Republic, "Republicans change lawyers in case challenging Wisconsin redistricting," December 5, 2011
  31. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker, GOP sue state elections and ethics agency over recall effort," December 15, 2011
  32. Appleton Post Crescent, "Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recall effort hits 90 percent, group says," December 16, 2011
  33. The Republic, "Recall Walker backers ask court to dismiss lawsuit," December 20, 2011
  34. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Court rules out intervention by recall groups," December 29, 2011
  35. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "General Accountability Board ordered to boost vetting of recall petitions," January 6, 2012
  36. The Republic, "Wis. appeals court vacates ruling on how state elections board must review recall signatures," February 3, 2012
  37. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Friends of Van Wanggaard - Special Pre-Primary 2012," April 30, 2012
  38. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Friends of Van Wanggaard - Recall 60 day report," January 23, 2012
  39. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Friends of Van Wanggaard - January continuing report," January 23, 2011
  40. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Friends of Van Wanggaard - Recall 30 day report," December 15, 2011
  41., "Recalled state senator will campaign for his old seat," June 24, 2013