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What's next for recalls in Wisconsin and beyond
By Geoff Pallay and Greg Janetka
MADISON, Wisconsin: And then there were two.
As the dust continues to settle from last night’s six recall elections, eyes now turn toward the two recall elections targeting incumbent Democrats. Voters in the 12th and 22nd districts will go to the polls next Tuesday to close out Wisconsin’s recall season, which began some six months ago following the introduction and subsequent passage of the budget repair bill.
Freshman Senator Jim Holperin (D) will be facing off against challenger Kim Simac (R) on Tuesday. Simac, President of the tea party group Northwoods Patriots, led the recall campaign against Holperin and defeated Robert Lussow in the July 19 Republican primary.
Campaign finance reports filed this week show Holperin outraised Simac for the year by more than double - $494,000 to $221,000.Outside organizations from both sides have poured money into the race, notably in TV ads from Taking Back Wisconsin, We Are Wisconsin, Greater Wisconsin Committee, and Americans for Prosperity.
Last night the candidates met for an hour long radio forum - their first and only debate of the campaign. Simac criticized Holperin for supporting increased gas and sales taxes, which she said hurts local business owners. Holperin said the increases were not harmful as it increased state funding for infrastructure was the best way to help the district. Holperin said Simac has been “contemptuous” in her role leading the Northwoods Patriots Tea Party group.
Holperin won his current seat in 2008, defeating Tom Tiffany by just over 2,100 votes. He survived a previous recall attempt in 1990 when he was a member of the state Assembly. Simac has not held elective office.
Voters in the 22nd District will be deciding between Sen. Robert Wirch (D), who has served since 1997, and challenger Jonathan Steitz. Steitz, a corporate attorney and former small business owner, defeated Fred Ekornaas in the July 19 Republican primary. In comparison to the other nine recalls, the race between Wirch and Steitz has been relatively quiet and has not drawn the huge spending from outside groups that other districts have seen. As for the candidates themselves, reports filed Tuesday show Wirch’s campaign has raised $257,000 for the year, while Steitz brought in $72,000.
Wirch easily won re-election to the Senate in 2008, defeating Benjamin Bakke by more than 27,000 votes. Steitz has not previously held elective office.
Beyond next week
Democrats are said to still be planning a recall attempt against Gov. Scott Walker (R), but such a campaign cannot officially begin until he has been in office a year, which will occur next January. Following the results of last night, Walker said he still expects a recall, but believes that voters are worn out from the campaigning and divisive attacks. “The last thing people want to see is tens of millions of dollars come into Wisconsin again and drive up these negative ads. They’ve had it with year-round campaigning, and they’re ready to move on.”
Meanwhile, one state representative is attempting to limit future recalls by amending the constitution. Republican Assemblyman Robin Vos (R) issued a press release today stating that he is working on an amendment that would require all recall petitions to provide a reason for the recall that relates to the official responsibilities of the office being targeted. He is planning to have it ready to be introduced for the fall session.
With last night’s victories Republicans were able to secure their continued control of the Senate by a 17 to 16 margin. If Democrats are able to hold on to their two seats next week, the one vote difference could empower moderate senators who are more likely to cross the aisle to vote. However, as Wisconsin has become one of the most sharply divided states in the nation, moderates on either side have become hard to find. It remains to be seen if this divide will heal once the recalls are over, or if the sharp partisanship will become even more ingrained.
However, the national impact of what started in Wisconsin continues. In Michigan, signatures were turned in last week to attempt to recall Michigan state representative Paul Scott (R). In Arizona, Senate President Russell Pearce is facing a recall election on November 8. He is currently fighting the recall via the courts system.
So while the political firestorm in Wisconsin should simmer in coming weeks, voter activism remains fervent across the nation.
- Recall of Wisconsin State Senators (2011)
- Wisconsin State Senate
- Laws governing recall in Wisconsin
- Redistricting in Wisconsin
- Advertisements in the 2011 Wisconsin State Senate recalls
- The Republic, “Democratic incumbent Wirch outraises GOP challenger in recall election,” August 9, 2011
- Wausau Daily Herald, “Holperin, Simac fling criticism in 12th state Senate District debate,” August 10, 2011
- Wisconsin State Election Results
- Wisconsin State Election Results, 2008
- WisPolitics, “Election Blog: Walker still expects recall attempt, Tate wants to start ASAP,” August 10, 2011
- WisPolitics, “Rep. Vos: “It’s TIme To Recall The Recall Elections,” August 10, 2011