Will history repeat itself with legal challenges to Wisconsin recalls?

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May 25, 2011

By Geoff Pallay

Wisconsin Senate Districts with recall signatures filed in 2011.
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2011 Wisconsin Senate Recalls

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

Other Recall Information
Recalls by YearRecall Law in WisconsinRecall laws in other statesRecalls in Wisconsin2011 Scott Walker Budget Repair BillProtests over Budget Repair BillWisconsin Government Accountability BoardRecall timelineElection Results

MADISON, Wisconsin: With a holiday weekend approaching, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is busy preparing for Tuesday’s much anticipated certification hearing for the final six recall campaigns.

Before this past Monday’s hearing that saw three recalls certified, GAB staff issued a 114 page memo. A similar memo for the May 31 meeting is expected to be published sometime before Thursday evening.[1]

This memo will provide greater clarity toward the likely events that will unfold on May 31.

Candidate signatures required

The recall certifications on Monday triggered some necessary steps for opponents. In order to appear on the recall ballot opposite an incumbent, candidates must obtain a minimum of 400 certified signatures.[1]

The candidates have until the 4th Tuesday before the recall to submit their signatures to the GAB. In this circumstance, that date was June 14, 2011.[1] The opponents for three certified campaigns thus far are:

Possible debates

In at least two recalls, candidates have discussed the likelihood of debates in the coming weeks. Shelly Moore (D) challenged incumbent Sheila Harsdorf (R) to a series of debates. Harsdorf, through a campaign spokesman, welcomed the debates. Three debates are expected before July 12th.[2]

Additionally incumbent Luther Olsen (R) signaled a willingness to engage in at least three debates with his likely opponent, Assemblyman Fred Clark, (D). Clark reportedly initiated the idea with Olsen suggesting dates and topics -- including a possible forum hosted by Baraboo schools.[3]

Legal action on the horizon?

Now that three Republican recalls have been set, one looming question remains over the possibility of legal action to try and delay the recall.

There is some precedent for this, from the last time a sitting Wisconsin State Senator was recalled. In 2003, Gary George (D) was recalled by voters and lost in the Democratic primary on October 21, 2003. However, prior to that date, George filed legal challenges that were heard in trial court, appeals court, and ultimately before the state Supreme Court -- before any recall vote could actually take place. The initial signatures for that campaign were filed in June 2003 -- meaning nearly four months elapsed between signature submission and the recall date.

After the GAB certification on Monday, both state political parties gave vague answers regarding the possibility of legal recourse. Mike Tate, chairman of the state Democratic Party, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he would not deny that Democrats might consider going to court to try to prevent recall elections against the incumbent Democrats. Meanwhile, Mark Jefferson, executive director of the state Republican Party, hinted that the Republican decision would hinder on whether the Democratic Party pursued legal recourse first.[4]

Sounds like one big game of chicken. Question is -- who will blink first?

See also