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Saturday, October 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 66.0° F  Fair
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Tough to gauge success of Wisconsin senate recall efforts
The Recall Kapanke committee filed 21,700 signatures for the recall of Sen. Dan Kapanke (R, LaCrosse) with the Government Accountability Board late last week.
The Recall Kapanke committee filed 21,700 signatures for the recall of Sen. Dan Kapanke (R, LaCrosse) with the Government Accountability Board late last week.

The task of recalling any of Wisconsin's 16 eligible state senators is a race against time. In each case, proponents need to collect anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 signatures in just 60 days.

And lately, Wisconsin's recall battle looks a lot more like a public relations skirmish; it's not about who has the most signatures, but who appears to.

Eight eligible senators from each party are currently facing recall: Democrats for leaving the state to stall a vote on Gov. Walker's "budget repair" bill and Republicans for voting in favor of the "union busting" bill.

Talk to organizers in either camp, and you'll hear nothing but good news.

"It's going awesome!" exclaims Scott Noble, head of Recall Julie Lassa. But when asked how many signatures the campaign against Lassa (D-Stevens Point) has secured, Noble is less certain, saying "We haven't counted."

Graeme Zielinski, a spokesperson for the state Democratic Party, gives similar vague but optimistic responses. "[The recall effort] has exceeded every expectation," he insists, adding that the effort is cumulatively more than halfway to success. However, Zielinski says Democrats won't release any numbers until all petitions are officially filed May 2.

According to Zielinski, this ambiguity is strategic: "We want to keep Republicans guessing, and keep people's enthusiasm up."

Although the Dems are staying tightlipped, there is no question that the Republican senators most at risk of recall are Dan Kapanke (La Crosse), Alberta Darling (River Falls) and Randy Hopper (Fond du Lac).

On Friday, April 1, three weeks into the campaign, the Recall Kapanke committee filed 21,700 signatures with the Government Accountability Board. If the board determines that at least 15,588 of these signatures are valid, Kapanke could face a recall election as soon as June.

Although the Hopper campaign says it's pressing for 20,000 or more, the Green Bay-based PolitiScoop reports the group already has the minimum signatures needed to oust Hopper.

Alberta Darling recall organizer Kristopher Rowe says reports the campaign has over 1,000 volunteers, and that efforts have doubled since passage of the Budget Repair Bill.

The most vulnerable Democrats are Sen. Jim Holperin (Conover) and Sen. Robert Wirch (Pleasant Prairie).

Although Holperin survived a recall election in 1990, he could face competition in an evenly divided district held by a 2,000-vote win in 2008.

As for the campaign to oust Wirch, "We're doing really well," says Dan Hunt, a real estate agent heading Taxpayers to Recall Bob Wirch.

Hunt says the campaign has between 8,000 and 12,000 of the 13,537 signatures needed to trigger a Wirch recall and is "100% confident" it will be filing.

Although Utah's American Patriot Recall Coalition filed petitions for all eight eligible Democrats in February, there has been little activity from recall campaigns for Sens. Lena Taylor and Spencer Coggs (Milwaukee) or Madison's Fred Risser.

Likewise, Democrats appear to be making little headway in their campaigns to unseat Sens. Mary Lazich (New Berlin) and Glenn Grothman (West Bend).

"There's 16 targeted, but we're not going to see 16 recall elections," says Mike McCabe, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Indeed, he says, "It seems odd to file papers to pursue recall of Risser or Grothman" because they are relatively secured in their districts.

Overall, McCabe says, Republicans face a bigger challenge. Not only is the effort by the state Democratic Party better organized, McCabe says, but "Republicans have a tougher sell."

"What Republicans have to do is convince their voters to be sore winners," he says, "to take out revenge even though [Act 10] passed."

Of course, even if organizers secure enough signatures to trigger an election, an actual recall is a different matter.

Since Wisconsin became a state in 1848, it has seen just four recall elections overall; only two succeeded in ousting the offending legislator.

"We're in totally uncharted territory here," says McCabe. "It's a huge undertaking to reach the [recall] threshold. To do this and fail doesn't accomplish much, and I think a number of these efforts will fail."

But, McCabe adds: "Where it succeeds it will cause a political earthquake."

Republicans currently hold a 19-14 Senate majority. If just three successful Republican recalls lead to Democrats being elected, that could shift the balance on key issues, including upcoming redistricting.

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