Wisconsin Senators Fight Recalls

MADISON, Wisc. (CN) – Three Republican state senators have challenged the recall petitions that voters filed against them. And it looks like recall elections of three Democratic senators, if they occur, will come separately, a week after the six Republican recall elections scheduled for July 12.

     The three Republicans’ complaints are based on a technicality: that the recall petitioners are not identified as members of the Committees to Recall.
     State senators Randy Hopper (Fond du Lac), Luther Olsen (Ripon) and Dan Kapanke (La Crosse) sued the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in separate but virtually identical complaints in Dane County Court.
     They claim the Accountability Board accepted registrations that were filed by the Committees to Recall, but not by the individual Recall Petitioners.
     None of the complaints mention the actual basis of the recalls: voter anger at the senators’ support for the union-busting Budget Repair Bill, and the legislative tricks used to enact it, and then publish it in defiance of a judge’s order.
     The three state senators cite Wis. Stat. § 9.10(2)(d), which states that “no petitioner may circulate a petition for the recall of an officer prior to completing registration.”
     Recall petitions have been filed across the state in the furor over Gov. Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill aka the 2011 Wisconsin Act.
     In addition to Hopper, Olsen and Kapanke, the Accountability Board issued certificates of sufficiency for three more Republican senators: Sheila Harsdorf (River Falls), Robert Cowles (Allouez), and Alberta Darling (River Hills).
     The Accountability Board said in a statement Friday that three recalls filed against Democratic state senators are on hold because “the Board and its staff did not have enough time to consider the petitions.”
     Those recall targets are state senators Jim Holperin (Conover), Robert Wirch (Pleasant Prairie), and Dave Hansen (Green Bay).
     This probably means that the July 12 recall elections will include six Republicans, and that recall elections for the Democrats will be held a week later.
     Democrats have been targeted for recall ostensibly because voters were angry at them for fleeing the state to deny Republicans a quorum.
     Republicans then passed the bill without a quorum, which set off a string of lawsuits, and a Dane County judge’s injunction against publishing the law, which she repeated after Gov. Walker published it anyway.
     The various issues are before the state Supreme Court, where the Republicans appear likely to have their way, as a closely contested election for the swing vote on the court was awarded last week to the Republican incumbent.
     As for the July recall elections, Accountability Board director and general counsel Kevin Kennedy said in the statement: “While holding all the recall elections on the same date may be desirable from an election administration standpoint, the Board always anticipated that not all of the recall elections would be held on the same date because of the way Wisconsin’s recall law is written. Both parties are making political calculations about the timing of elections, and that is not something our nonpartisan Board should do. The judge noted that the impracticality of trying to set a single date for all the recall elections, given the likelihood of primaries and further court challenges by individual state senators.”
     Oral arguments will be heard today (Monday) before the state Supreme Court in the fight over the controversial anti-union law. It makes it illegal for public employees to collectively bargain for anything other than wages, and imposes other conditions making union representation more difficult.
     Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi – who twice ordered Gov. Walker not to publish the law – declared the law void in late May, finding that Republican legislators violated the state’s Open Meetings Law to push the law through a joint committee of conference. It is now up to the high court to decide if it will take the case.
     Gov. Walker claims the bill was written to address a $3.6 billion budget shortfall. “The bill will balance the budget and lay the foundation for a long-term sustainable budget through several measures without raising taxes, raiding segregated funds, or using accounting gimmicks,” he said. He said the bill “will meet the immediate needs of our state and give government the tools to deal with this and future budget crises.”
The bill reduces many benefits state employees have received for years; it requires them to contribute 50 percent to their pensions, which never before required an employee pay-in; it increases employee contributions for health insurance from a 6 percent statewide average to just over 12 percent; it strips collective bargaining rights; it prohibits employers from collecting union dues through paycheck deductions; and it requires annual votes to recertify union representation, among other things.
     Republican lawmakers have said they would consider passing the law a second time as part of the 2011-2013 state budget if necessary.
     The Wisconsin Democratic Party held its annual convention last weekend, where the focus was not only on the recalls, but on “the larger prize” of ousting Gov. Walker when he becomes eligible for recall in January 2012.
     Party Chairman Mike Tate said, “Simply put, Scott Walker must be stopped and it will be the Democratic Party of Wisconsin that stops him.”
     Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in the governor’s race, told the convention on Friday: “This group of Republicans is drunk with power. They have sold out the middle class and Wisconsin values for a 12-pack of special-interest brew. Now is the time to sober them up.”
     The Democrats said they are not worried about allegations of defects in their recall petitions.
     Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin State Journal: “It’s a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the backsides of some pretty out-of-step senators. It will be laughed out of court.”
     The three Republican state senators seek orders to stay the determination that the recall petitions are sufficient, and to stay the election schedule while the action is pending. They are represented by Eric McLeod and Michael Screnock, with Michael Best & Friedrich, of Madison.

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