Republicans upset with Wisconsin recall process


MADISON, WI - MARCH 11: A protester holds a sign during a demonstration inside the Wisconsin State Capitol on March 11, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Justin Sullivan/GETTY IMAGES)

The Wisconsin election board ruled Tuesday that another three Republicans will face recall elections as petitions against Sens. Robert Cowles, Alberta Darling and Sheila Harsdorf were approved. They join Sens. Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, and Luther Olsen, against whom recall petitions were approved last week.

As for the three Democrats targeted with recalls — Sens. Dave Hansen, Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch — the elections board has pushed off a decision until next week, citing “numerous factual and legal issues” with the petitions that need to be reviewed. The board is made up of six retired non-partisan judges.

“The workload of reviewing the challenges to those petitions is so large that with available staff, we haven’t been able to do it yet,” said board spokesman Reid Magney. “The challenges filed by the Democrats are just of a magnitude beyond what the Republicans challenged.”

Both Republicans and Democrats are targeted for their actions during the March budget debate — Republicans for eliminating collective bargaining for state workers, Democrats for fleeing the state. All six Republicans hit with recall petitions will face special elections on July 12. (Democrats did not gather enough signatures to force recalls for two other eligible Republicans.)

Some Republicans are crying foul, saying the board is setting the scene for an unfair election.

Kim Simac, a Republican planning to run against Holperin, said it was “suspicious” that the three Democratic recalls were lumped together for delay. Other Republicans have called for Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy to resign.

“We definitely do find it a little surprising that the Government Accountability Board has prioritized the certification of recalls against three Republicans while delaying the certification of recalls against three Democrats,” said Wisconsin Republican Party Communications Director Katie McCallum. She added that some of the Republican petitions were filed first.

Eric McLeod, a lawyer representing the Republican state senators, said that if the board can’t decide what to do with the Democratic challenges on time, those challenges should be thrown out: “The challenges are convoluted and confusing and if the staff of the Government Accountability Board can’t complete their review in the required period of time than the challenges should fail.”

Democrats have, in turn, accused Republican of misleading voters who signed those petitions. The board has asked for the deadline for review, currently set for Friday, be extended to next week. They also asked the state legislature back in March for additional funds to deal with the complaints, but so far have they have not received any.

Democrats, not unexpectedly, think the board is doing the right thing. “I think the situation here is that there are mountains of fraudulent signatures and other issues going on with” the Republican petitions, said Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Gillian Morris. “And the Government Accountability Board is doing their due diligence to make sure that those are revealed.”

Democrats need to win three seats to take back the state Senate. Obviously that task would be easier if the petitions against Democratic lawmakers are thrown out, but that’s far from a sure thing. On top of the deadline debate, Republicans have challenged the approved petitions against three state senators in circuit court.

“This is a very fluid situation,” Magney said. By the end of next week, we should know for certain where the field stands going into the summer elections.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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