Angry over a stalled mine project, a group of North Woods residents on Friday filed paperwork targeting Sen. Bob Jauch for removal from office, making him the first Democrat under attack in the latest round of recall efforts.

Jauch, 66, a 29year veteran of the Legislature from Poplar, played a major role in fighting Gov. Scott Walker's attempts this year to curb collective bargaining for public employees. The controversy over that bill led directly to the current round of recalls targeting Walker and four Republican senators. 

Northern CRG, an affiliate of the grassroots conservative organization Citizens for Responsible Government Network, on Friday formed an "exploratory committee" to recall Jauch. An official with the group said they want to oust him because they believe he is responsible for the stalled progress of a proposed 4½-mile-long iron mine south of Ashland.

"We have tried hard to get him to listen to us about the mine," said Shirl LaBarre, committee spokeswoman. "We support this mine. It will bring jobs here. He is the obstacle." 

But Jauch said Northern CRG is just another conservative group more interested in getting their way than achieving a consensus.

"There have been no votes on this, so how can they say I have opposed it?" Jauch said. "For six months I have worked to create an open and deliberate legislative process that will move us toward modernizing our mining laws."

Gogebic Taconite, the company proposing the $1.5 billion, 700-job mine, has threatened to abandon the project if the state doesn't pass a bill easing permitting requirements. 

State Assembly Republicans introduced a bill Thursday that would make it easier for the mine to move forward. The proposal limits legal challenges and exempts companies like Gogebic from some wetlands and other water protections. Critics contend the bill reduces environmental protections and drastically limits public involvement.

Jauch hasn't outright opposed the mine, but during hearings the past several months he has said he wants to make sure environmental safeguards remain and public input is not limited.

Northern CRG said Jauch has dragged his feet on the mine, preventing the region from benefiting from the high-paying jobs it would bring to the area. "I know people will think this is partisan," LaBarre said. "But this has nothing to do with the other recalls. This is about the mine and our frustrations with Sen. Jauch."

LaBarre, a former Sawyer County Republican Party chairwoman, has run unsuccessfully three times for state Assembly. LaBarre said Friday that she has no interest in running for Jauch's seat.

Forming a committee means Northern CRG may raise and spend money toward Jauch's recall, without starting the 60-day clock that begins once they officially become a recall committee and start collecting signatures. To become an official recall committee, the group needs only to file papers amending its status.

Already targeted for recall are Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau and Republican Sens. Pam Galloway, Wausau; Van Wanggaard, Racine; and Terry Moulton, Chippewa Falls.

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