Voters go to polls in Wisconsin's two final recalls
EAGLE RIVER, Wis |
EAGLE RIVER, Wis (Reuters) - Voters in two Wisconsin State Senate districts headed to the polls on Tuesday in the last of nine recall elections triggered by the fight earlier this year over Republican-backed curbs on union rights of public workers.
In Tuesday's two special elections, Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch -- Democrats who opposed the anti-union measure and even fled the state for weeks in an unsuccessful effort to prevent its passage -- are defending their seats.
No matter who wins, Governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies will retain control of the legislature, where the battle over public workers' union powers was waged earlier this year with mass protests, legislative maneuvering and court challenges.
Holperin seemed to be in the tighter race. His rival is Kim Simac, founder of the Northwoods Patriots, a Tea Party group. Though Simac is a political novice, the district has leaned Republican in the three years since Holperin was elected.
Simac said Holperin's decision to take a hiatus to Illinois at the height of the union conflict would decide the race.
"The difference will be that this elected official up and ran away," she said. "We can talk about why our businesses aren't open but at the end of the day, you don't up and run away when the going gets tough."
Holperin, who said he thinks the race will be very close, and said voters were concerned more about how state government affects their lives. "They are concerned about cuts to valued programs and services," Holperin said.
John Genz in Antigo, Wis. said his vote for Simac was cast solely because Holperin fled to Illinois.
"That guy that is in there should never have left ... he wasn't doing his job," said Genz. "When I worked, I had to go to work to get paid. He didn't have to."
Two blocks away, voter Duane Packard said he thinks the notion that Holperin wasn't doing his job when he went to Illinois was a misconception.
"It was him doing his job," Packard said. "That is why he went there, in order to stop the vote."
HIGH TURNOUT EXPECTED
Poll workers in the northern Wisconsin district said they expected a high turnout, In the southern district, long lines were reported at Kenosha polling places, according to Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board.
With seven of the nine recalls over, Republicans have managed to keep control of the state senate -- 17 to 16 if they score no wins on Tuesday -- because Democrats failed to unseat three senators in six Republican recalls last week.
Governor Walker fought for the union curbs, which restrict the bargaining rights of public workers and also make them pay more for health care and pensions, saying they were needed to help Wisconsin close a $3.6 billion budget deficit.
Democrats cried foul, saying public workers had already agreed to steep benefit cuts. They called the effort union-busting, designed to hobble organized labor -- a major source of Democratic Party financing -- ahead of the 2012 elections.
The fight thrust Wisconsin into the national spotlight, igniting massive pro-union protests and political fights that led to the recall efforts against six Republicans who backed the union curbs and three Democrats who opposed them.
The nine recall efforts were historic. Until this summer, there had been only 20 state-level recall elections in U.S. history. The money poured into the recall campaigns has also been something for the record books.
Mike Buelow, research director for the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, estimates that candidates and outside groups spent as much as $37 million on the recalls.
That amount is "really astronomical for Wisconsin," he said. It is more than double the amount spent on state legislative races last year when 116 seats, not nine, were up for grabs.
With the recalls acting as somewhat of a rehearsal for 2012, experts say the spending could be a harbinger of record outlays next year.
(Writing by James Kelleher and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Johnston)
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