- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wisconsin state Sen. Randy Hopper goes to work every morning not knowing how long he will have his day job. And he’s fine with that.

One of the prime targets of a recall effort organized by state Democrats, the Fond du Lac Republican expresses no regrets about voting for the controversial law earlier this year that set off a titanic political clash between new GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s powerful public-sector unions.

Mr. Hopper is now coping with the political blowback, facing a July 12 recall vote as Democrats plan to tie him to a governor whose popularity has slipped since pushing the law through the state Legislature.

“I absolutely would’ve voted the same way knowing how it’s all turned out, because it’s the right thing in moving our state forward,” Mr. Hopper told The Washington Times in an interview. “We have to have the courage [to face] the kind of intimidation we face every day, because we said it’s important for our future generations and more important for our state that we have people with the kind of political courage that has been missing in Madison.”

Mr. Hopper, a businessman who operated a string of local radio stations, and a handful of other state lawmakers - of both parties - are feeling the aftershocks of the epic political clash that consumed this state, shut down the state Capitol and riveted the nation for weeks earlier this year.

In a state in which just two state lawmakers have been successfully recalled by voters in more than 80 years, suddenly Wisconsin voters may soon be voting on whether to cut short the tenures of up to six GOP and three Democratic legislators.

Mr. Hopper finds himself in the crosshairs after backing the governor’s “budget-repair bill,” which sought to close a $3.6 billion state deficit. The most contentious parts of the bill stripped teachers and other public-sector union members of their right to collective bargaining on issues other than wages and required most public employees to contribute more to their health care and pension plans.

Republicans maintained that the law was vital to dig the state out of a major financial hole and address chronic budget shortfalls. Democrats in the Legislature - who were so opposed they fled to neighboring Illinois in a futile bid to avoid a final vote - have called the governor’s plan a union-busting power trip that will backfire on the state.

Adding to Mr. Hopper’s political burden, a Public Policy Polling survey released last week found that just 43 percent approve of Gov. Walker’s performance in office and 54 percent disapprove.

The union bill is tied up in courts, with a Dane Country judge Thursday ruling the way the law was passed violated state legislative rules. The key ruling on whether the union law can go into effect will come after the state Supreme Court hears arguments set for June 6.

But even as the legal battle simmers, the “Committee to Recall Hopper” is forging ahead. The ad hoc group registered with the state’s Government Accountability Board on March 2 and by April 7 had turned in more than 23,000 signatures for a recall vote, far more than the 15,000 needed.

Mr. Hopper, who’s also had to deal with a public dispute involved his estranged wife even as the recall campaign gathered momentum, has little margin for error, getting elected in 2008 by fewer than 200 votes.

Two other Republican candidates - Dan Kapanke of La Crosse and Luther Olsen of Ripon-also face certified recall campaigns. Assuming final state approval is granted, the three Republicans will face challengers July 12.

Petition drives are also ongoing against three other Republican state senators and three pro-union Democrats.

The recall drives have the potential to transform the balance of power in Madison. Republicans hold a 19-14 edge in the state Senate, meaning that three successful recalls would give the Democrats control of the state’s upper chamber.

Democrats are confident of their chances. Graeme Zielinski, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesman, said the recall effort will “absolutely” lead to a change in leadership for Fond du Lac.

“I think [Randy Hopper] is well out of step with the wishes of the community, standing with Scott Walker instead of working families in the district. … It’s something that he has to answer for,” Mr. Zielinski said. “He has not represented his district, and he has not listened. He thinks it’s all about Randy Hopper, and it’s not.”

The recall effort was a grass-roots movement led by Scott Dillman, a resident of Mr. Hopper’s district. Mr. Dillman said it was “very easy” to gather the required number of signatures.

Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, predicted that all of the recalls on both the Democratic and Republican side are going to be competitive.

“We’re taking all of the challenges very seriously, and we’re going to aggressively defend all Republicans across Wisconsin,” Mr. Jefferson said.

Mr. Jefferson said he thinks Mr. Hopper has a particularly strong record focusing on keeping taxes low and creating jobs for his district, while the Democrats in the state ran up the bills and put the state in a financial hole.

“We saw what [the Democratic] agenda was,” Mr. Jefferson said. “It was higher taxes, more regulation, job-killing policies, and selling out to unions and supporters. It was rewarding their friends and punishing their enemies. If the Democrats were to somehow get control of the Senate, that would be their agenda once again.”

Wisconsin Republicans already survived one particularly fierce challenge, when Republican state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser barely held on to his post over Democratic challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in early April - but only after initial returns appeared to give Ms. Kloppenburg the win.

The judicial race, traditionally not a partisan contest, was widely seen as a first referendum on the governor’s bill.

Mr. Hopper said he is staying positive in the face of the recall drive.

“I feel confident about the recall, because once I get the chance to sit down and talk to people in my district, they start to understand that this is the right thing for our state,” he said.

Mr. Hopper also said time will show the benefits of the new law, as school districts in the state will be able to balance their budgets without laying off teachers.

“The Democratic Party put the state into the ditch, and we’re trying to get out of it,” Mr. Hopper said. “People will realize it. We can’t mortgage our kids’ future because we’re done doing that. And once people will see that, they’ll get on board with what we’re doing here.”

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