Wisconsin politicians face specter of fresh recall votes

MADISON, Wis Tue Nov 8, 2011 11:26am EST

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker holds a news conference at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, February 25, 2011.  REUTERS/Darren Hauck

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker holds a news conference at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, February 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Hauck

MADISON, Wis (Reuters) - Republican Governor Scott Walker could headline a cast of Wisconsin lawmakers who may be fighting for their political lives in a sequel next year to last summer's historic state recall elections.

As many as 17 state senators, along with Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, could face recall battles next summer if activists succeed in efforts to force such votes, according to the state's government accountability board.

But as party leadership, strategists and the electorate start to turn their collective attention to the possibility of a second special election cycle, it is still anyone's guess who will be targeted, outside of Walker.

"No decisions have been made on our end yet, we are taking a wait and see approach," said Dan Romportl, the executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate.

"We are not the ones triggering the second round. That is coming from the Democrat party and some of the grassroots organizations," he added.

Wisconsin Democrat communications director Graeme Zielinski echoed that sentiment.

"It's fluid," said Zielinski, whose party has indicated it will begin recall efforts on November 15. "If we had a list, we won't tell because it would give an advantage to the Republicans. But the fact is, we don't have a list."

The upcoming round of recall efforts, like the last round, is prompted by controversy over Walker's push for curbs in collective bargaining for public workers.

The proposal set off mass protests at the Wisconsin Capitol and prompted 14 Democratic Senators to leave for Illinois to avoid a quorum. The legislation passed along party lines in March.

Despite the high-stakes nature of the upcoming recalls, state party leadership said the efforts will begin locally. Zielinski said while party leaders may sometimes disagree on methods and priorities, "the unifying factor is that everyone wants to recall Scott Walker."

BALANCE OF STATE SENATE

In addition to the governor and lieutenant governor's offices, the political balance of the state Senate is at stake with 11 Republicans and 6 Democrats not already up for re-election eligible for recall efforts under state rules.

Lawmakers who have been in office one year and who have not already faced such a vote are eligible for recall in Wisconsin.

Currently, Republicans hold a razor-thin majority of 17-16 in the upper chamber after they lost two seats to Democrats during the first round of recalls, which consisted of nine races last summer.

"There are a few people that are always upset with me... I'm sure they are going to pull papers," said Democratic state Senator Chris Larson. A Facebook group has begun an effort to oust him, although he said he was confident of his "good standing" in the community.

Once a petition begins to circulate, recall supporters have 60 days to file voter petitions with the state. To be valid, a petition must have at least a quarter of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial race in that district.

To recall the governor and lieutenant governor, petitioners need to get about 540,000 signatures for each.

Democrats may take aim at Republicans such as Dale Schultz and Van Wanggaard, who they perceive may be vulnerable based on the relatively strong showing by the Democrats in their districts during the gubernatorial election last year.

Even with the threat of recalls, Republicans in Madison have aggressively forged ahead with their conservative agenda, passing concealed-carry and voter identification measures during the last year.

"My instinct as an old-fashioned politician would be if there are recalls coming up then, let's become less controversial. Let's swing back to the middle," said Mordecai Lee, professor of governmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a former Democratic state legislator.

"I don't see that's the mentality of the Republican majority. They are very ideological and believe in certain things," he said.

Wisconsin's electorate used to be split into thirds, with a third voting consistently on the left, another third on the right, and swing voters making up the remaining third. These voters seem to have disappeared, as every Wisconsinite has an opinion about Walker and his collective bargaining curbs, Lee said.

"Maybe there is one little old lady that is off the grid who doesn't know about it," Lee said. "You sure couldn't put together a jury of 12 undecided voters about this."

Democrats may benefit from the opinionated electorate when it comes to its effort to recall the governor, according to Lee. Senators, who are typically closer to their constituency, may be less vulnerable, he said.

"I don't think the recalls in August of state senators has the political clarity that a recall of the governor has," said Lee, who was skeptical that more than a half a million signatures could be collected against the governor.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Johnston)

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