Wisconsin progressives have moved from Capitol Square in Madison to call centers, makeshift offices and the streets of their hometowns, where they’re organizing one of the most ambitious recall drives in the nation’s history.
Democrats are targeting all eight GOP senators who can be recalled under state law, hoping to pick up at least three seats and regain control of the Senate.
In a separate effort by Republicans, eight Democratic senators have also been targeted for recall. The targeted Democrats all have pro-equality voting records, while the targeted Republicans oppose equality along with policies supporting women’s health, environmental protections and justice for workers and consumers.
The targeted GOP senators have all earned high ratings from groups promoting the corporate-right agenda, including Americans for Prosperity, which is funded largely by Charles and David Koch. The billionaire brothers poured over $1 million into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign last fall and opened an office of their energy company, Koch Industries, in Madison shortly after his election. Walker's budget bill positioned Koch Industries to receive lucrative no-bid contracts from the state.
Although the recall efforts target both sides of the political aisle, political observers agree the energy and enthusiasm is disproportionately on the left as a result of the massive mobilization against Walker’s budget bill. That bill stripped public unions of nearly all their rights and decimated funding for public health, education and transportation while reducing the tax liability of corporations and the state’s wealthiest individuals. It also set the stage for Koch Industries and other GOP allies to receive favored treatment from the state.
National pundits say Walker has done more to galvanize Democrats than any Republican since George W. Bush.
Unlike the homegrown campaigns against Republicans, the effort against Democrats is organized by the American Patriot Recall Coalition, according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Office. APR is a right-wing group based in Utah. Its promotional materials often imply members are grassroots organizations, but they are not.
At least one of the Democratic recall targets – Sen. Jim Holperin of Conover – is considered highly vulnerable for recall, although he’s already survived one recall attempt. Obama won his district in 2008 by 7 percentage points.
Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen and Kenosha Democrat Bob Wirch also are said by Republicans to be somewhat vulnerable, although Obama won both their districts in 2008 by double digits.
At the same time, at least three Republicans are considered highly vulnerable, and another three are somewhat vulnerable, said out state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, who has emerged as a leader in the fight against Walker’s budget bill.
“The situation now is the opposite of what we had last November, where it pretty much didn’t matter who your candidate was if they had a ‘D’ after their name,” Pocan said. “This time, if you’ve got an ‘R’ after your name, it’s not going to be good at the polls.”
Pocan said it’s critical for LGBT people to continue standing in solidarity with the unions as the political action moves from the streets to the ballot boxes. “Labor was there with us when we had our constitutional amendment fight. This is another right that’s being attacked and we have to stick together when someone attacks rights,” he said.
Wisconsin law makes recalls difficult. Organizers have 60 days to collect signatures numbering at least 25 percent of all the people who voted in the last gubernatorial election in their respective districts. That means recall groups must collect 12,000-21,000 signatures in each of the targeted senate districts in order to qualify for the ballot.
Only lawmakers who have served for at least a year can be subjected to a recall election, which is why Walker’s detractors must wait for the opportunity to remove him from office.
Despite the challenge, progressive leaders said their efforts are exceeding expectations. State Democratic officials reported on March 14 that 45 percent of the total signatures needed in all eight Republican districts had been gathered. Only one-quarter of the time required to obtain signatures had passed at that point in time.
“It’s going fantastically,” said Tammy Bockhorst of Grassroots Shorewood. “We’re just amazed at all of the people who have offered their support.”
Grassroots Shorewood is going after one of the most vulnerable Republicans, state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills, a largely suburban district north of Milwaukee that includes some of the state’s most affluent citizens as well as working-class areas such as Menomonee Falls.
Darling, who won her last election by 1,000 votes, has enraged many voters by voting in lockstep with fringe Christian groups and the corporate agenda. But Bockhorst said it was Darling’s support for Walker’s union-busting bill and the GOP’s vilification of teachers that has been the last straw for many in her district.
“People are telling us that they are very upset with the fact that she’s not giving any reasons as to why she’s siding with Walker,” Bockhorst said. “They’re especially upset that she’s cancelled all her town hall meetings and has become totally unavailable.”
Anti-Darling protesters, many of them wearing hot-pink T-shirts – “the color just seems to go with the name ‘Darling, – Bockhorst said – lined Lake Drive north of Edgewood Avenue on March 16 to draw attention to the recall effort. Darling, however, missed the proceedings. She was in Washington, D.C., attending a $1,000-$5,000 a plate fundraiser for Wisconsin Republicans sponsored by the BGR Group, one of the corporate right’s most powerful lobbying organizations.
Another Republican vulnerable to recall gave his political opponents an unintended gift several weeks ago. When pro-union protesters surrounded the Fond du Lac home of right-wing state Sen. Randy Hopper, his wife emerged to tell them he no longer lived there, because he’d moved in with his much-younger mistress in Madison. She told reporters both she and her maid are supporting his recall.
His wife’s revelation prompted a complaint to be filed against Hopper for living outside his district. The complaint is currently under investigation by the Wisconsin Justice Department.
Hopper was elected to the Senate in 2008 by a margin of only 200 votes. A recent Washington Post poll showed him losing 54-43 in a hypothetical recall match.
Dan Kapanke of La Crosse is another vulnerable Republican. He won his last race with under 3,000 votes out of 87,000 cast. The Post poll showed him losing a recall by a whopping 57-41.
Republicans Robert Cowles of Green Bay, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Luther Olsen of Ripon are considered somewhat vulnerable.
Fair Wisconsin has joined with gay civic leaders and elected officials in backing the recall efforts targeting Republicans. Elections could begin as early as June.