Campaigns to recall 16 Wis. senators called ‘unprecedented’

Acrimony of budget battle not waning

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2011 began with the Green Bay Packers winning the Super Bowl. Then things got really exciting in Wisconsin.

Weeks of protests at the state Capitol in Madison over the Republican budget proposal were followed by a contentious campaign to turn out a state Supreme Court justice. Now the state Senate is facing a total recall.

Sixteen state senators — eight Republicans and eight Democrats — have been targeted by recall committees stemming from the contentious budget-reform debate in March. That’s half of the 33-member Senate, and it might have been more but for a state law that prohibits recalls against first-year legislators.

Their crimes? The Republicans voted in favor of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, which scaled back collective bargaining for state workers. The Democrats tried to block the vote by fleeing to neighboring Illinois.

Wisconsin politicos are quick to point out that this isn’t business as usual in the Cheesehead state. Only four elected officials have been successfully recalled in the past 85 years, but there’s been nothing ordinary about this year’s tumultuous power struggle between budget-cutting Republicans and union-friendly Democrats.

“I don’t think anyone’s seen anything like this before,” said Jeff Harvey, campaign manager for Republican state Sen. Randy Hopper, who’s the focus of a recall effort. “It’s unprecedented in Wisconsin, and I don’t think there’s a precedent for it in any state of the union. Especially when it’s over a vote.”

So far petitions have been turned in for just two of 16 legislators, Republican state Sens. Dan Kapanke and Scott Hopper. In Mr. Kapanke’s case, organizers gathered more than 22,000 signatures, well in excess of 15,588 required, in just a month.

The state must still verify the signatures before special elections can be scheduled, but if the signatures pass muster, Mr. Kapanke could face a recall as early as the first week of June. Mr. Hopper, who won his Fond du Lac district by just 184 votes in 2008, could follow by the end of June.

Randy Hopper, like Dan Kapanke before him, made his choice when he cast his lot with Scott Walker and his extreme power grab,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate, whose party has launched the slogan, “Help Recall the Republican 8.”

Mr. Kapanke is the only recall target to date with an opponent. State Rep. Jennifer Shilling, a Democrat, announced Saturday that she would challenge Mr. Kapanke for his Democratic-leaning district in western Wisconsin.

At her kickoff event in LaCrosse, Ms. Shilling made it clear that her campaign would attempt to tie Mr. Kapanke to the governor, whose statewide approval rating has dropped in the wake of the budget fight.

“We don’t need more politicians to stand with the governor,” she said. “We need leaders to stand up to the governor.”

Widely viewed as the most-endangered Democrats are state Sens. Jim Holperin, Julie Lassa and Mark Miller. Mr. Holperin survived a previous recall effort in 1990.

Dan Baltes, executive director of American Recall Coalition, which is organizing six of the eight Democrat recalls, says he expects to land at least four Democrats on the recall ballot. His Utah-based group has come under fire for meddling in Wisconsin politics, which he described as ironic.

“The criticism I’ve gotten is that we’re out of state, we shouldn’t be doing anything in Wisconsin,” said Mr. Baltes. “Well, what about Organizing for America? What about the AFL-CIO?”

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