Sheila Harsdorf recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2011)

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Sheila Harsdorf

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

Other Recall Information
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A campaign to recall Sheila Harsdorf, a member of the Republican Party, from her elected position representing District 10 in the Wisconsin State Senate took place in 2011.

Harsdorf defeated Shelly Moore in the recall election on August 9, 2011.

Path to the ballot

About 23,000 signatures to recall Harsdorf were filed on April 19, 2011, about 7,000 more than the 15,744 that were necessary.[1],[2] Signatures were filed against nine different state senators in Wisconsin, while a total of sixteen were originally targeted for recall.

Location of Wisconsin State Senate District 10
Map of Wisconsin Senate District 10

In early May the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board verified the petitions had enough signatures to force a recall. Challenges to the petition were reviewed at the board meeting on May 31.[3][4] The Board threw out most of the challenges, giving the go ahead for a recall election.[5] The Board officially certified the recall against Harsdorf on June 3, effectively setting the election for July 12. Since there was more than one opposing candidate, however, a primary occurred on July 12, with the recall on August 9.

Harsdorf said that the recall campaign against her was mostly being financed by out-of-state organizations, stating, “While I know there are many people who disagree with my positions, what is driving the recall are the special interests. A third of those who were circulating recall petitions were from outside the 10th Senate District.”[6]


Democrat Shelly Moore of River Falls announced on May 3 she would run against Harsdorf in a recall. Moore is a teacher at Ellsworth Community High School and serves as National Education Association director for the Wisconsin Education Association Council.[7]

Following Moore's announcement, supporters of Harsdorf responded, saying "by bypassing the normal election process, the special interests simply get to choose their candidate in an attempt to keep the status quo that taxpayers can't afford and is bankrupting our state. We look forward to speaking to voters about Moore's close allegiance to special interests and their mutual agenda of spend first, tax more, and continued use of the credit card."[8]

Isaac Weix, who ran as a Republican for state Assembly in 2010, entered the race in the 10th District as a Democrat in order to force a primary and delay the actual recall by four weeks. A Harsdorf spokesman said she did not support the protest candidacy and had nothing to do with it.

Stephan Thompson, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, issued a statement on June 6 indicating that the party advocated fake candidates run because Republicans were at a disadvantage. "Because of this disadvantage, and the outrageous nature of elected officials facing recall for standing up for a balanced budget, the Republican Party of Wisconsin has advocated that protest candidates run in Democratic primaries to ensure that Republican legislators have ample time to communicate with voters throughout their districts after the state budget is approved," he said.[9]

Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller called the move "Nixonion tactics," saying, "we don't need to waste taxpayer money on phony elections to help these Republicans duck the voters and needlessly delay these elections."[10]

July 12 Democratic Primary

Moore defeated Weix in the primary. It was the closest of the six Democratic primaries.

July 12 Democratic primary[11]
Candidates Votes Percent
Shelly Moore Approveda 19,300 53.98%
Isaac Weix 16,029 44.83%
Scattering 427 1.19%

Republicans jumped on the results of the primary, with the state party issuing a press release on July 14 targeting Moore, while Harsdorf’s campaign issued two against her opponent.

In its release, the Wisconsin GOP referred to Moore’s win in the primary as “an embarrassing performance,” going on to discuss a ‘’PolitiFact story that gave Moore a “Pants on Fire” rating for a direct-mail piece that said, “Senator Harsdorf and Her Party Want to Eliminate Medicare As We Know It, Forcing Seniors to Pay Thousands More a Year for the Same Coverage."[12]

The woman featured in the mailing called herself a supporter of Moore, but did not consent for her name to be used and did not know Medicare would be the issue. However, she said she still supported Moore.

The first press release from Harsdorf also attacked Moore for the flyer, with spokesman Nathan Duerkop saying, “Moore should publicly apologize to all seniors today and cease her lie-filled direct mail campaign.”[13] The second stated that Moore went to an NEA Convention instead of being in a local parade.[14]

August 9 recall

Harsdorf defeated Moore in the August 9 recall.

August 9 Recall - District 10[15]
Candidates Votes Percent
Sheila Harsdorf (R) Green check mark transparent.png 37,102 57.6%
Shelly Moore (D) 27,257 42.32%
Scattering 52 .08%

Moore and Advancing Wisconsin

In a press release on May 13, Friends of Sheila Harsdorf accused Shelly Moore of opening up a campaign headquarters jointly with a new liberal interest group, Advancing Wisconsin. The press release called Moore "a vocal mouthpiece for protecting the status quo and defending the state’s biggest special interest groups who champion a tax-and-spend agenda," and "a single-issue candidate intent on blocking government reform."

Gillian Morris, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, responded, "They aren't even on the same floor, and this is just blatantly false. They are indeed in the same building, but they do not work together, speak or anything like that."[16]


On May 23, Moore challenged Harsdorf to at least three debates. In a press release Moore explained, "By standing side-by-side and sharing our visions for the future, the people will see who will fight for education, seniors and the middle class, and who is eager to continue giving millions of dollars in tax breaks to big corporations."

Harsdorf spokesman Nathan Duerkop said Harsdorf was "more than happy to talk to voters about Moore's tax-and-spend plans," adding, "Residents of the 10th Senate District will be alarmed at how Moore is in league with Madison unions and how much it will cost taxpayers if elected, to say nothing about the debt she would pass onto our kids. Sheila is hard at work fixing budget messes, but we look forward to a full set of debates."[17]

Moore and Harsdorf faced off in a debate sponsored by Husdon Patch on July 25. It was closed to the public, with only invited guests and the media able to see it live.

Both candidates expressed an eagerness to discuss the issues. Moore stated, "I look forward to a substantive debate about the issues facing the 10th state Senate district this summer," while Harsdorf said, "I look forward to talking about what this unprecedented recall effort is all about and who's driving it."[18]

A press release from Moore’s campaign detailed three other debates - the second put on by the American Association of University Women on July 27, with a third sponsored by the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Bureau on July 28,[19] and the last being the Wisconsin Public Radio Candidate Forum on August 4.[20]

While the press release from Moore outlined four debates, Harsdorf’s campaign said they only accepted three, as Moore originally proposed back in May. The one in question was the American Association of University Women debate. Harsdorf’s campaign says they signed the recall petition and may have donated to Moore’s campaign, and because of that, they were not interested in participating.[21]

Harsdorf and Moore faced off for the first time in the July 25 debate. Harsdorf opened the debate, saying, “I'm not being recalled because I did anything wrong. I'm being recalled because I stood up to special interests.” Moore said recall was “the right of the people,” and that it was happening because the voice of the people was not being heard.[22] Many issues were addressed by both candidates, including balancing the state budget, government priorities, collective bargaining, and campaign finance.[23]

Republicans question Moore’s emails

Stephan Thompson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board on June 21, alleging Moore intentionally used her public school email account to coordinate work related to her recall campaign against Harsdorf. Republicans released the emails in question, which they obtained through an open records request from the Ellsworth School District.

One of the emails, dated March 10, 2011, stated, "We are not supposed to use school email, but since all of our rights are being taken away, I don't frankly care."

Thompson stated, “this abuse of taxpayer funded resources deserves a full investigation by the Government Accountability Board. If she feels she is above the laws of this state, she certainly has no business having a hand in creating them.”[24]

Democratic Party press secretary Gillian Morris called the complaint a “blatantly political stunt,” saying, "Shelly was absolutely not using taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes -- no campaign even existed when these emails were sent.”[25]

Isaac Weix issued a statement calling on Moore to leave the race, stating, "For the sake of the integrity of the legal democratic process, and the reputation of the Democratic Party it is time for Ms. Moore to withdraw her candidacy."[26]

Ads relating to the campaign

Petition challenged

Harsdorf officially challenged the recall petition against her on May 3, arguing it was invalid because the petitioner did not property file a registration statement per Wisconsin statute. She also challenged 1,240 signatures for a variety of reasons.[27] At the GAB meeting on May 31, most of the challenges were thrown out, giving the go ahead for a recall election.

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.[28]

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.[28]

The board went ahead with hearings on May 31 for the recalls of Republican incumbents Harsdorf, Robert Cowles and Alberta Darling.[29] 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.[30][31] 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.[32]

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.[33]

Legal challenges

Attorneys for Dan Kapanke, Luther Olsen, and Randy Hopper filed petitions in Dane County Court on May 31 seeking to stop the recall elections against them. Their argument was based on improperly filed paperwork, similar to the argument they previously used before the GAB and saw rejected. The court petitions alleged that recall petitioners did not correctly register with the GAB and thus the 60-day period to collect signatures did not start, meaning every signature collected was "dated outside the circulation period" and therefore invalid.[34]

On June 7, Alberta Darling, Harsdorf, and Robert Cowles joined their fellow Republicans in filing suit against the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in Dane County Circuit Court. Their lawsuits alleged that signatures on the recall petitions were invalid because of improperly filed paperwork.[35][36] Jeremy Levinson, attorney for the Democrats, filed motions with the court on June 14, asking them to throw out the Republican's "meritless" challenges.[37]

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.[38]

Campaign contributions

Candidate fundraising

An investigation by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found Harsdorf's campaign report failed to disclose occupation and/or employer information about 3 campaign contributions totaling $1,325.[39]

Sheila Harsdorf Campaign Finance Reports (GAB ID No. 102332)
Report Date Filed Beginning Balance Total Contributions (Expenditures) Cash on Hand
Special Pre-Election[40] August 1, 2011 $141,962.93 $106,448.12 $(151,067.90) $97,343.15
July Continuing[41] July 5, 2011 $59,472.00 $217,565.74 $(135,074.81) $141,962.93
Special Pre-Election[42] April 22, 2011 $33,105.71 $71,994.80 $(45,628.51) $59,472.00
Spring Pre-Election[43] April 14, 2011 $10,545.25 $38,172.00 $(15,611.54) $33,105.71

The following political action committees have made donations to Sheila Harsdorf:

  • Centene Corporation PAC
  • Ellis to Madison Committee

In her past state Senate campaigns, Harsdorf refused to accept money from PACs. In 2008 she released a statement chided her opponent for accepting such funds, while Harsdorf "received nearly 90% of her contributions from people in western Wisconsin and does not accept special interest PAC contributions."[44]

For the recall campaign, however, she accepted PAC money. Campaign staffer Nathan Duerkop explained, "We've never said we were going to unilaterally disarm in this unprecedented campaign." He went on to say, "I fail to see how the comments from the past speak to operations for this recall campaign."[45]

Official reports

Recall committees

As of the April 25, 2011 filing, the Committee to Recall Harsdorf raised $123,694.35 and spent $123,473.45.

Committee to Recall Harsdorf Campaign Finance Reports (GAB ID No. 600015)
Report Date Filed Beginning Balance Total Contributions (Expenditures) Cash on Hand
Special Pre-Election[46] April 25, 2011 $540.00 $55,998.81 $(56,317.91) $220.90
Spring Pre-Election[47] March 28, 2011 $0.00 $67,695.54 $(67,155.54) $540.00

Radio Ads

The following four radio ads were created by Friends of Sheila Harsdorf. They aired spring 2011 during the recall petition drive.


Conducted June 23-26

August 9, 2011 Recall - District 10 - Daily Kos/PPP Poll[48]
Candidate Party Percent
Sheila Harsdorf Ends.png Republican 50%
Shelly Moore Electiondot.png Democratic 45%
Undecided 5%

Conducted August 5-7

August 9, 2011 Recall - District 10 - Daily Kos/PPP Poll[49]
Candidate Party Percent
Sheila Harsdorf Ends.png Republican 54%
Shelly Moore Electiondot.png Democratic 42%
Undecided 4%

Additional reading

Official documents

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


See also

External links


  1. Chicago Tribune, "Petition filed to recall 4th GOP Wisconsin senator," April 19, 2011
  2. River Towns, "More than 22,300 signed petition to recall Harsdorf, organizers say," April 19, 2011
  3. Talking Points Memo, "Wis. Elections Staff: Sufficient Signatures To Recall Four (And Counting) GOPers," May 10, 2011
  4. Talking Points Memo, "Wis. Elections Staff Recommend Recalls Against Three GOPers," May 20, 2011
  5. 620 WTMJ, "GAB gives go-ahead for Harsdorf recall election," May 31, 2011
  6. Hudson Star-Observer "Harsdor: Who controls our government?" May 25, 2011
  7. Twin Cities, "Dems name candidate to challenge Harsdorf in Wisconsin's 10th District," May 3, 2011
  8. WQOW, "Democrats choose candidate for 10th State Senate District," May 3, 2011
  9. Daily Journal, "Wisconsin Republican Party encourages spoiler candidates to run in recalls to force primaries," June 6, 2011
  10. Twin Cities, "Wisconsin Republicans accused of dirty tricks in recall elections," June 6, 2011
  11. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board "July 12 Primary Election Results District 10," accessed August 11, 2011
  12. ‘’WisPolitics, “WisGOP: Shelly Moore busted for “misleading” and “ridiculous” flyer,” July 14, 2011
  13. ‘’WisPolitics, “Harsdorf Campaign: Shelly Moore identified as Liar, Liar “Pants on Fire” in Politifact,” July 14, 2011
  14. ‘’WisPolitics, “Harsdorf Campaign:Hudson boosters call out More for parade lies and rule violations,” July 14, 2011
  15. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "District 10 Recall Election Results," accessed August 19, 2011
  16. Hudson Patch "Sheila Harsdorf Campaign Accuses Shelly Moore of Moving in With Special Interest Group," May 13, 2011
  17. Hudson Patch, "Shelly Moore Challenges Sheila Harsdorf to Debates," May 24, 2011
  18. Hudson Patch, "Hudson Patch to Host First Debate Between Shelly Moore and Sheila Harsdorf," July 15, 2011
  19. River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, "Legislative Moderated Forum," accessed July 15, 2011
  20. ‘’WisPolitics, “Moore Campaign: Shelly Moore accepts four debates,” July 15, 2011
  21. ‘’WEAU, “Harsdorf, Moore to debate several times,” July 15, 2011
  22. Hudson Patch, “Wisconsin Senate Recalls: Shelly Moore and Sheila Harsdorf Square Off in Hudson Patch Debate,” July 25, 2011
  23. WEAU, “10th District candidates face off in first debate,” July 25, 2011
  24. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Republicans call for probe into recall candidate’s emails," June 22, 2011
  25. Hudson Patch, “Wisconsin GOP Files Complaint Alleging Shelly Moore Used State Resources to Coordinate Recall, Campaign,” June 22, 2011
  26. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "'Protest' Democrat asks opponent to step down," June 24, 2011
  27. Harsdorf challenge to recall petitions, May 3, 2011
  28. 28.0 28.1 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Review of recall petitions going slowly; July 12 election in doubt," May 27, 2011
  29. Greenfield Reporter "Wis. election officials delay decision on recall petitions for Dems, may need date change," May 27, 2011
  30. WisPolitics, "GAB formally asks judge for more time to consider recall petitions against Dems," June 1, 2011
  31. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "State board requests more time to review recall petitions," June 1, 2011
  32. NBC 15, "UPDATE: Judge Grants Week Extension for Recall Review," June 3, 2011
  33. WISN, “GAB Certifies 3 Democratic Recall Elections,” June 8, 2011
  34. Wisconsin State Journal, "Recall-targeted GOP senators challenge validity of petitions," June 1, 2011
  35. Superior Telegram, "GOP planning lawsuit over Republican senator recalls," June 8, 2011
  36. Leader-Telegram, "Harsdorf, other GOP senators sue to stop recalls," June 9, 2011
  37., "Recall campaigns ask court to throw out 'meritless' challenges," June 14. 2011
  38. WUWM, "Judges Rules Senate Recalls Can Proceed," July 8, 2011
  39. FDL Reporter, 'State group files campaign finance complaints against 3 recall targets,” June 7, 2011
  40. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN: GAB-2: Friends of Sheila Harsdorf," August 1, 2011
  41. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN: GAB-2: Friends of Sheila Harsdorf," July 5, 2011
  42. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Friends of Sheila Harsdorf", April 22, 2011
  43. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Friends of Sheila Harsdorf", April 14, 2011
  44. Friends of Sheila Harsdorf, "Page Campaign: Bankrolled by Special Interests, Launches Dirty Campaign," October 9, 2008
  45. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Harsdorf reverses course on accepting PAC funds," June 19, 2011
  46. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Committee to Recall Harsdorf", April 25, 2011
  47. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Committee to Recall Harsdorf", March 28, 2011
  48. Daily Kos, "WI Recall: New Daily Kos polling shows path to victory," June 28, 2011
  49. Daily Kos, "Wisconsin recall elections: Too close to call," August 8, 2011