One of the great stories of the recall moment in which Wisconsin now finds itself is that of the effort to remove Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who has served as Gov. Scott Walker’s political pet during the current legislative session.
Whenever Walker said jump, Fitzgerald asked: “How high?”
Despite the fact that he serves as the leader of what is supposed to be an independent legislative chamber, Fitzgerald never thought for himself. He never challenged the governor, even when Walker’s agenda threatened Fitzgerald’s constituents in east-central Wisconsin. And he never allowed other legislators to challenge the governor.
Aside from the governor himself, no official did more damage to Wisconsin during the past year than Scott Fitzgerald.
Yet, because Fitzgerald and his allies had gerrymandered his district, the conventional wisdom held that the majority leader was politically unassailable. While Walker might well be recalled and removed, the argument went, the majority leader was untouchable.
But nobody let Lori Compas in on the conventional wisdom.
A Fort Atkinson photographer who freely admits that she has never traveled in the circles of the political intelligentsia, Compas could not figure out why Fitzgerald was not being targeted for removal along with Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and a trio of Republican state senators who served as rubber stamps for the Fitzwalkerstan agenda.
Compas was not satisfied with the suggestion that Fitzgerald was too entrenched, too connected, too well-financed to be removed. And when others would not step up to take the majority leader on, she did.
Running a grass-roots campaign from her kitchen table, the mother of two built a movement of small-business owners, farmers, retirees and working moms and dads into the Committee to Recall Scott Fitzgerald. As she noted early on: “We’re running this effort on a wing and a prayer, so we’re really counting on the good will of others in the district and around the state who agree that Scott Fitzgerald should be recalled. ... We’re receiving no money from the Democrats or United Wisconsin (and that’s fine with us, because we don’t want to detract from their recall efforts).”
Facing a daunting task — a total of 16,742 valid signatures was required — Compas and her compatriots worked through the winter with little money, little strategic assistance from Democratic insiders or union stalwarts, and little attention from the media.
But Compas kept cheering the effort on, and gaining support based on the simple premise that the people have a right and a responsibility to hold their elected officials to account — even officials who are supposed to have all the advantages.
In the final weeks, as more and more volunteers embraced the “Recall Fitz” movement, what had seemed impossible suddenly became very real. On Jan. 17, Compas and a crowd of citizens from Fitzgerald’s 13th District arrived at the state Government Accountability Board with 20,600 signatures — far more than the required number.
Fitzgerald is being called to account. And the question now is who will take the lead in what is transitioning from a petition drive to a campaign. We hope that the person who did so much to make the petition drive a success will consider making the race.
Lori Compas is not a professional politician. She is not an insider. She is, like so many people who have been drawn into the recall movement, a concerned and engaged Wisconsinite.
And we could use some more concerned and engaged Wisconsinites in the state Senate.
Compas, running as a Democrat or an independent, could present a compelling contrast with Fitzgerald.
And she would certainly have a good case to make against the incumbent. It’s the same case that powered the petition drive.
Scott Fitzgerald does not represent the communities of Cambridge, Columbus, Lake Mills, Fort Atkinson, Watertown, Deerfield, Horicon, Mayville, Lomira, Beaver Dam, Fox Lake and Oconomowoc.
Since Walker took office a year ago, Fitzgerald has served only Walker — advancing the governor’s agenda even as Walker proposed to cut funding for schools and communities in eastern Dane, Dodge and Jefferson counties. Fitzgerald refused to respect the public’s right to know and open meeting laws as he rushed to pass anti-labor legislation designed to assault the rights of state, county and local workers and teachers in his own district.
Only an intervention by Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, and responsible Republican senators prevented Fitzgerald from refusing to count the votes of Senate Democrats in committee sessions.
Even the majority leader’s fellow Republicans quietly acknowledge that he has spun out of control.
That’s a serious matter for the whole state, as he remains the most powerful player in the Legislature. But it is an especially serious matter for the residents of the 13th Senate District. They are no longer being represented by Fitzgerald, whose loyalty to Walker has overwhelmed the senator’s independent judgment and trumped any sense of responsibility to his constituents.
It is for this reason that the grass-roots campaign to recall and remove Fitzgerald went from strength to strength.
And it was Lori Compas who recognized Fitzgerald’s vulnerability and acted upon it to forge a recall movement.
That combination of vision and determination is needed in the Capitol. She should seriously consider making the run against Fitzgerald.
John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com