Wisconsin recall election 2011: Democrats fail to take Senate majority by one seat

August 10, 2011

Voters in Wisconsin recalled two of the six Republican State Senators in Tuesday’s recall elections, which left the Democrats one seat short of a majority in the Senate. As Rachel Weiner reported:

Democrats fell one seat short of a chance at taking back the Wisconsin state senate Tuesday, a result that will disappoint organized labor nationally.

According to the Associated Press, State Sens. Dan Kapanke andRandy Hopper were recalled, while Sens. Robert CowlesAlberta DarlingSheila Harsdorf and Luther Olsen held onto their seats.

Before Tuesday’s elections Republicans controlled the state senate 19 to 14; they now have a 17 to 16 edge. Two Democrats face recall elections next Tuesday. The party needed to net three wins to regain the upper chamber, which they lost in 2010. That is now impossible.

The recalls were sparked by Republican legislation to end collective bargaining for public employees in the state, a move that inspired major protests in February and March. Democratic lawmakers fled Wisconsin to avoid voting on the bill; Republicans passed it without them. The recall campaigns on both sides began soon after.

Democrats’ chances came down to Darling’s race against state Rep.Sandy Pasch (D), which was not decided until early Wednesday morning.

Democrats have questioned the results given that Waukesha County was one of the last to finish reporting. In April’s Supreme Court election — also seen as a referendum on collective bargaining — challengerJoAnne Kloppenburg appeared to have beaten Judge David Prosser, before thousands of lost ballots were found in Waukesha.

Wisconsin voters went to polls Tuesday to vote in recall elections for eight state senators, but the ramifications of the election will be nation-wide, as both parties will look closely at the results as a bellweather for elections to come. As Rachel Weiner explained:

* Why is this happening? In January, Republicans swept Wisconsin state government, assuming the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Republicans in the legislature, in conjunction with Gov. Scott Walker, put forward an austerity budget that ended collective bargaining for public employees.

Democrats fled the state to avoid voting on the measure. Thousands of protesters gathered at the state capitol in opposition to the law. After weeks of stalemate, Republicans separated the union provision from the rest of the budget, allowing them to vote on it without a quorum.

Walker signed the measure into law, provoking an immediate backlash. Democrats began gathering signatures on recall petitions against all eight eligible (see below) Republican state senators. Republicans responded by attempting to recall all eight eligible Democratic state senators, arguing that they shirked their duties by fleeing the state.

* Who is eligible for recall? In Wisconsin, any elected state official who is more than a year into his or her term can be recalled. That requirement is why Gov. Walker, about half the state Senate, and all of the House were not vulnerable to recall. To recall a state senator, petitioners must gather signatures equal to 25 percent of the votes cast for governor in that district in the last gubernatorial election. They have 60 days to do so.

Eight Democrats and eight Republicans had been in office long enough to be targeted. Campaigns were launched against all sixteen, but petitioners only gathered enough signatures to recall six Republicans and three Democrats.

A record-breaking spree of donations flooded into the state before the recall elections, as both Democrats and Republicans nationwide attempted to tip the scales in the final days. As Michael Fletcher reported:

Record-breaking donations are pouring into Wisconsin for state Senate recall elections on Tuesday that could help shape the future of the national GOP agenda.

The recall effort was triggered by Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s move to sharply curtail collective-bargaining rights for public employees in the state. That decision ignited huge protests at the state Capitol this year. But the campaigns are now tackling the issues at the heart of the national Republican political agenda. They include refusing to raise taxes even on corporations and the wealthy for fear of dampening job creation, and relying solely on cuts to government programs to close yawning budget gaps.

Outside groups — led by national unions on the Democratic side and limited government groups such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth on the Republican side — have shoveled more than $25 million into the recall effort, with both sides spending about the same amount. The candidates, meanwhile, have raised more than $5 million.

The staggering dollar amounts being showered on the eight recall campaigns — which after a July 19 election and Tuesday’s six contests will conclude with two elections on Aug. 16 — are shattering state records. In 2010, when the 99-member assembly and half the 33-member state Senate was up for election, outside organizations spent $3.75 million in Wisconsin — 15 percent of this year’s total.

More from The Washington Post

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