Because of their vote on Wednesday night to limit collective bargaining for some public workers, eight GOP Wisconsin state senators may face recall elections in the coming weeks.
“The national unions and the Democrats nationally have really decided that they’re going to try to make Wisconsin an example for other states,” says Mark Jefferson, chairman of the Wisconsin Republican party. Their message is, he says, “If you intended to pursue these reforms, we will intimidate you as best we can, and there will be retribution.”
To recall a state senator in Wisconsin, a group needs to file a petition, and then collect signatures from eligible votersin the senator’s district. The number of signatures required is 25 percent of the number of votes cast in that district in the last gubernatorial election. Wisconsin law also requires that a politician have been in office a year before any recall election can occur, which is why not all 18 GOP senators are facing recalls.
On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Democratic party reported that it had about 15 percent of the signatures it needed. On Thursday, Democratic spokesman Graeme Zielinski reported that updated numbers were not available, but that the number of signatures “absolutely has increased.”
“We raised $250,000 in the last twelve hours alone [i.e., the hours immediately after the vote] to support these recall efforts,” he adds, “because people are spitting mad. People are itching for some way to talk back to Scott Walker. The recall is now the most immediate way that they can help.”
Jefferson acknowledges that the recall efforts against Republicans “are clearly very real.” “The Democrats have raised a couple million dollars already, when you put together what the state Democratic party has raised and the Democratic senate campaign committee,” he says. “And the outside groups, they’ve turned their stunt into a campaign cash cow. They’ve got the resources to pump out there.”
“We’re definitely taking it seriously,” agrees Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.
After filing a recall petition, organizers have 60 days to collect signatures. If they gather enough signatures, state law requires a period of at least 31 days for reviewing and validating those signatures. If the result is that there are enough legitimate signatures, an election is scheduled for six weeks later.
Republicans have mounted recall efforts of their own against the eight Democratic senators eligible for recall. Jefferson says there’s “a lot of enthusiasm on the ground right now” for the recalls of Democrats, but he has not yet released any numbers on how many signatures have been gathered.
Republican state senator Randy Hopper, who is being targeted for a recall, says that recall threats had been used earlier to “to try to bully members of my caucus into voting a different way.” He adds that the prospect of a recall election is “really the last thing on my mind.”
“My colleagues and I have received substantial death threats today,” Hopper says. “So thinking about politics right now really isn’t something that is a priority to me.”
He also sees significant differences between the Democratic and Republican recall efforts. “My colleagues and I are being targeted for standing up and doing our job,” he says. “We’re being targeted because people don’t like the decisions we’ve made or the votes that we’ve cast. I think that’s very different from the recalls going on against a group of people who refuse to do their jobs, who refuse to be here working on behalf of their constituents.”
For the Democrats, the magic number is three: If they succeed in recalling three Republicans, the senate will flip to Democratic control. And they are not concerned about losing any seats themselves through recall elections. Talking about the Republican recall efforts, Zielinski says, “They have no momentum.”
Gov. Scott Walker will not be eligible for a recall effort until next year. But Zielinski says the Democratic party will definitely target him then.
Jefferson calls the possibility of a Walker recall “not likely at all.”
“I think people are going to, over time, appreciate the reforms that will have been implemented,” he says.
Jefferson is also confident that if recall elections occur, the Republican senators “will survive.”
“I think we’ll withstand it, but only if we are able to mobilize our people and counter what the Democrats are doing,” Jefferson explains. “We’re never going to match them dollar for dollar. We know that. But we do have a lot of taxpayers out there who have been waiting for these types of reforms to take place. And we think they’re going to stand strong on election day.”