With two Democratic senators facing recall elections next week, and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin still hoping Gov. Scott Walker will face the same threat next year, Wisconsin’s recall battles are far from over.
It’s unclear what effect this week’s election results will have on next Tuesday’s races, when Sens. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, and Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, fight for their seats against Republican challengers Kim Simac, a tea party organizer, and Jonathan Steitz, a corporate attorney and political newcomer.
Going into this week, Republicans controlled the Senate 19-14, so Democrats needed to win at least three seats and hold onto two more next week to take over. Instead they won two, shifting the balance in the Senate to give the GOP a razor-thin 17-16 majority.
Both sides said the election results showed promising signs for next week.
Republicans said GOP wins in four out of the six contests Tuesday showed broad support for their agenda.
“I am pleased voters agreed that we are on the right path here in Wisconsin,” Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, said. “The senators up for recall made the tough decisions necessary to get our state back on track.”
But Democrats, despite coming up short in their primary goal of winning control of the Senate, also claimed victory, saying they beat GOP incumbents in traditionally Republican districts.
“They lost Republican seats that they’ve held for a long time,” said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha. “We were running in very Republican territory.”
In a sense, the stakes are not as high heading into next Tuesday’s recalls because control of the Senate is no longer in play. But both sides said energy and interest in the remaining recalls was still intense.
“Our politics is local, and I’m confident the momentum will continue,” Wirch said.
And Holperin said “we need to maintain these seats” to keep the Democrats’ increased influence. He added that he thought his race would be a close one.
Simac campaign spokesman Matt Capristo said this week’s elections left her campaign “optimistic” and “encouraged by the elections.”
A spokesman for Steitz did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
The state Democratic Party was also upbeat about its chances of unseating Walker in a potential recall next year.
“I believe that if last night’s election were a statewide election, Scott Walker would have been recalled from office,” party chairman Mike Tate said.
When asked if he expects to face recall next year, Walker told the State Journal, “I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to the pundits.
“To me, what I’ll be judged on — whether it’s next year or 2014 — is ultimately going to be how successful we are on our campaign to create 250,000 jobs in the state.”
In an effort to make such recalls rarer, a GOP lawmaker said Wednesday he will seek to change the state constitution.
The constitutional amendment being drafted by Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, would change the reasons for recall elections in Wisconsin, so a state lawmaker could only be recalled if indicted or charged with a felony, convicted of a misdemeanor, or if it’s determined the person violated a proposed code of ethics for lawmakers, Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said.
“No longer should taxpayer dollars be wasted on unnecessary recall elections that were triggered by a vote that some special interest group didn’t like.” Vos said. “It undermines our democracy and wastes precious taxpayer dollars that are needed elsewhere.”
His plan drew immediate scorn from liberal critics.
“The extent to which these Republicans will go to rig the laws to favor them politically appears to be unending,” said Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now.