WATERTOWN — The little blue Honda was traveling with the flow of Church Street traffic when the driver slowed slightly, honked his horn twice and then shot a "thumbs up" at the short, silver-haired man walking on the sidewalk in front of the Pick'n Save.

The friendly gesture and staccato horn blasts clearly tickled their target: Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Fitzgerald, known as "Big Fitz" around the Capitol, was spending the Saturday afternoon campaigning in his district.

As a GOP leader and one of the politicians most associated with Gov. Scott Walker's legislative agenda, Fitzgerald has grown used to people honking at him (usually to the cadence of "This is what democracy looks like!") and waving (in a manner of speaking).

So he couldn't help but laugh as he waved back at the man in the Honda. "It's a lot nicer than being on the Square," he said. "I get a different finger here."

Few could have predicted this. Even during the height of the protests against Walker and Republican leadership last year, and through an earlier round of recall elections that nearly cost the GOP its control of the Senate, there was little talk of challenging Fitzgerald. First elected to the Senate 17 years ago, he has been practically untouchable in the largely rural and strongly conservative district. In 2006, he wasn't even opposed.

Now, the 48-year-old Republican is facing his own recall election, organized not by the opposing party but by a political upstart operating largely on her own.

Lori Compas, 41, a freelance photographer and writer from Fort Atkinson, has become a legitimate thorn in Fitzgerald's side. And while polls show him comfortably ahead of Compas, that doesn't lessen the sting of finding himself suddenly back on the campaign trail, trying to convince voters he did the right thing, the right way.

"There is definitely a group of independent voters who agreed with what we did, but they just don't agree with how we did it," he said. "They feel we should have explained it better, or somehow articulated what we were doing more clearly. Now, will that be enough for them to vote for a liberal candidate? I don't think so."

Another question is, will voters see her as liberal, or will they see her as simply different, more accommodating, more agreeable?

"He keeps trying to paint me as a wild-eyed liberal who is crazy, but the people who know me know I am a moderate," Compas said. "And the people I meet on the campaign trail like the idea of electing a moderate, someone who actually understands compromise."

Stubborn conservative

Fitzgerald was elected in 1994 to south-central Wisconsin's 13th District, which includes the cities of Oconomowoc, Watertown and Fox Lake. That year, he defeated 14-year incumbent Barbara Lorman in the Republican primary, mainly by being the most conservative voice in the race.

Fitzgerald was able to paint Lorman as too moderate for the district. Her defense of abortion rights was a big campaign issue. It is no small irony that the very thing that got him elected — his stubborn conservatism — is one of the big reasons Fitzgerald faces a recall.

Starting with the election of Walker in 2010, the senator found himself in a key position to help enact sweeping changes the GOP had discussed for years. Walker, Fitzgerald and his brother, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, presided over a legislative session in which the GOP pushed through a series of controversial measures, including a historic reduction of collective bargaining power for public employees and more than $1 billion in cuts to education.

It was, by any measure, an ugly session, filled with rancor and turmoil. The Capitol became home to a monthlong continuous protest, which many Republicans came to view as a gantlet of anger and hate. "They were everywhere," Fitzgerald said. "And it could get scary."

The mood of the crowds was not helped by the Republican approach during the session, led by Fitzgerald himself, who bucked compromise and bent parliamentary rules to push Walker's collective bargaining law through a conference committee before it had passed the Senate.

Fallout from the session still is felt today. The two parties remain sharply divided, Fitzgerald has lost his Senate majority and now the governor, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Fitzgerald and three other senators face another round of recalls.

'I kept waiting'

The Democratic Party never intended to make a run at Fitzgerald's seat. The party's goal for this latest round of recalls was pragmatic, not symbolic: Win at least one Senate seat and retake control of the chamber. Officials chose three seemingly vulnerable Republicans to recall: Sens. Pam Galloway of Wausau, Van Wanggaard of Racine and Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls. Galloway has since retired.

To the Democrats, Fitzgerald seemed too tough a target. He won his two previous contested elections with about 68 percent of the vote. But none of that mattered to Compas. She was shocked no one was going after the person she held most responsible for passing Walker's controversial legislation.

"I kept waiting for someone to do it, and no one would," Compas said. "I thought he deserved it every bit as much as the governor."

Compas, who took part in the protests last year, filed paperwork in November to start the recall against Fitzgerald. At the time, she assumed someone else would step into the race, but again, no one came forward and in February she became Fitzgerald's challenger.

Unlikely candidate?

Compas laughs a lot. A mother of two with chestnut hair and a permanent smile, she seems more encouraging art teacher than hard-boiled politician.

She lives in Fort Atkinson with her husband, Eric, a professor at UW-Whitewater. Compas always has been active in politics but never as a politician. She said her inexperience and demeanor have caused some to underestimate her. "Nice people can be strong," she said. "And happy people can be smart."

On the same Saturday that Fitzgerald campaigned in Watertown, Compas greeted volunteers at a park in Oconomowoc, thanking them for taking up her cause. Her maturation as a candidate was visible. She shook hands with everyone, spending a few moments with each volunteer. The Packers-sweatshirt-and-jeans combo that used to be her campaign attire was gone; in its place was a smart, brown pantsuit.

"A couple of supporters cornered me after my first listening session and said, 'If you are going to be our candidate, you have to start looking the part,'" she said. "I have two suits now, a brown one and a navy blue one. I call them my uniform."

Still, Compas knows it will take more than a nice suit and firm handshake to unseat the Capitol's second-most-powerful politician. According an April Daily Kos/PPP poll, Compas trails Fitzgerald, 54 percent to 40 percent. Defeating someone with his experience, name recognition and fundraising advantage — $427,374 to her $103,822 — will be a tall order.

Still, when Compas started the recall, no one thought she could collect enough signatures. Without party help, she gathered about 12,000 of the 16,742 needed. Then the political organization We are Wisconsin stepped in and helped push her over the line. "I think it surprised everyone," Compas said.

Not buying it

So Fitzgerald is back on the campaign trail, two years early. He is shaking hands and telling people that he, and the other Republicans, did the heavy lifting for something the state really needed.

For the record, Fitzgerald said he doesn't buy Compas' Pollyanna image. He knows some people are painting the race as a David-vs.-Goliath contest. But Fitzgerald said he thinks her husband is one of the main forces behind her campaign, as well as unions and protest groups.

"I don't for one minute believe she is the organizing force behind this whole thing," he said.

When told of Fitzgerald's statement, Compas was audibly stunned.

"That is pretty insulting, but it does seem in keeping with his general views on women," she said. "He doesn't seem to have a lot of respect for them. That's OK; he can keep underestimating me."

Compas said that if Fitzgerald really doubts she is a serious candidate, he should accept her invitation to debate. "I have challenged him to five debates," she said. "If he thinks I can't handle myself, he should come out and face me."

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Pardon me if I don't believe that you know about "internals" showing Fitz with a 2:1 lead. The GOP has specialized in throwing out piles of baloney and hoping it sticks. $7 million damage at the Capitol, Wisconsin's huge job gains, John Kerry's a coward, etc. You are, quite possibly, a paid shill for your party. Heck, you might be Brian Schimming or Vicki McKenna, or one of Gov. Walker's indicted confidants for all anybody here knows.
The bottom line is that Scott Fitzgerald is in a very safe, Republican district and will probably win. Having said that, he's clearly feeling some heat and when people don't defer to his awesome power, he gets red-faced, sweaty and angry and is liable to say almost anything. They'll debate on Wednesday. I hope the State Journal deems it worthy of coverage.
Matt Gallo


Internals are showing Fkitzgerald over Compas nearly two to one. That is twice the spread Fitz had over his opponent in 2010. At an intersection in the district, horns blowing for Fitzgerald and Walker were nearly non stop.


The only plan Fitzy has is to do exactly what ALEC tells him to do...if he and ALEC were in a jail cell Fitzy would be the one grabbing his ankles. Time for him to go.


I loved Lori Compas' video. Dems should take note. She is clever and has a sense of humor. You should have had her run against Walker in the recall instead of Barrett.

Her video is very good and funny, but I'm still voting for Fitz.
Its refreshing to see someone run with a sense of humor, but I'd rahter see a plan and solutions from the Dems. So far nothing.


wisconsin needs more people like Lori Compas


Clay got his artical wrong when he said Fitzy is known as big Fitz around the capitol when he is called Baby Fitz for childlike tantrums he throws


Lori Compas is not "a convicted criminal," despite your fairly frequent postings that she is. She got a ticket for honking her car horn at an RV campsite on the Yellowstone River in Montana in the late 1990s, and paid the fine, whatever that was. It's a misdemeanor, Dode, which is a lot less than our governor is facing if the allegations about his campaigning on the taxpayer dime are true. Your posts have her wearing leg-irons and handcuffs, which would be better used by a couple of our governor's confidants. Or, maybe, Gov. Walker himself.
Lori Compas is a smart, energetic and bright woman who would be a quick study in the state Senate. She has a tough fight against Sen. Fitzgerald, who is apparently starting to feel some heat. She has challenged him to debate but he won't do that, because his face gets red, he starts to sweat and he gets visibly annoyed when people don't defer to his power. His aides, certainly, know that and he'll duck and cover. It'd be fun, however, to watch.
Calling people false names, Dode, while hiding behind the cloak of anonymity that this forum provides, is not nice.
Matt Gallo

Phil Ball
Phil Ball

@ middleoftheroad - Our primary difference is that you indicate a desire to elect a legislator to legislate whereas I believe we need legislators to clean house, censure and discipline their own miscreants, do battle with the pansified Prossers of the supreme court, hold the governor accountable for his outright incompetence, and show some respect for those who refuse to join the WhiteMan'sClub in the legislature. It is hard to imagine Fitzgerald doing any of this, given that his history in the legislature is that of a key enabler of all of it. He supports Walker so unthinkingly that a vote for Fitzwalker is a vote for Walker. And Prosser. And Walker's felonious staffers, half of whom now work under court granted immunity to testify against Walker himself. Would you have us believe that Fitzgerald is unaware of this cesspool that Walker has created? You will have a chance this evening to query him on his awareness of the pedophilia, embezzlement, theft, cronyism, and so forth that constitutes Walker's staff and style. To know about it and do nothing about it is to support it. Fitzgerald's silence speaks volumes.
And that sums up Fitzgerald's record. As for his creation of legislation, don't be silly. The major and minor stuff comes from the American Legislative Exchange Council. Word for word, the same stuff is being introduced all over the country. Under Walker and Fitzgerald, the extent of their legislative skills is doing as their lieges tell them.

Get over yourself on every weak point. The dems have the same "boiler plate" legislation fed to them. There has been far too much corruption among our elected reps, but the Dems have been equal in their participation. So in your esteemed opinion we need to clean house, but you really mean clean out the republicans? HA. All citizens have an equal 1 vote and apparently you haven't noticed that over 50% have been supporting the conservatives. The dems followed Doyle's weak lead in lockstep and that led us to these troubled times. If Risser, Miller, Barca, Erpanbach, etc ever compromised it would be a miracle. As I stated in my first post....the public will decide which path they think is best, as the MIDDLE ROAD continues to be unused. As for me I will choose the conservative choice.


You dislike Walker's alleged wrongdoing, but don't care about Compas' criminal history? She is just another rabble rouser like our community organizer in chief. I don't want a convicted criminal like Compas or a senatorial quitter like 0bama representing the 13th district. She should just go back to Montana and do some time.


What a pathetic liar you are Dode. Convicted criminal for honking her horn at Yellowstone National Park? Yeah, that's scary stuff. Thank God Ranger Yogi caught her before she made her way to Glacier National Park and scared some bears.


Every woman in Fitzgerald district should be appalled by this condescending attitude displayed by Fitzgerald. Stating that a woman could not possibly want him recalled because of his actions he cannot believe. What right thinking woman would want more funding for schools? What woman would want good benefits for workers? What woman would want the environment to be protected for her children? Should the women in this district give up their rights to think and go back into the kitchen where they belong? What world is the man living in? Think this through. This is a man who wanted to eliminate environmental safeguards for a mine in Northern Wisconsin for a $1,000 contribution to his election fund. Look at the environmental record behind Kline Mining and then if you want to vote for Fitzgerald, volunteer for the tailing to be used for fill in Watertown!


The schools (the children) did not take a budget cut, the school employees did. Act 10 saved school districts more money than they lost in funding.


notakers: when there are less capable teachers in the classroom or class sizes grow, who will take the real hit is the children. You need to be able to see in the future what affects will occur with ACT 10.

The best and the brightest will not go into education because of the pay and the lack of respect. Who will suffer will be the children. the best and brightest will go into fields that pay well and are respected. Sadly the GOP does not understand that this does and will affect our children.

I even remember Ellis and Vos basically saying on a recording that the Fitagerald brothers were inept. And this was done by co workers and people of the same party as them. Doesn't say much of the feelings of the GOP of Scott Fitzgerald does it.


Please, tell me you are not a teacher--especially an English teacher.


When the Republicans cut $3.6 billion from the budget, we were able to avoid a $700 increase in taxes per household. In addition to reversing those cuts, Compas wants to increase state spending. Can we afford a massive increase in state taxes? The state budget definitely needs adult supervision--vote Scott Fitzgerald.

@ Phil - Several of the things you point to, like the theft from the veterans fund didn't havppen in this district and certainly didn't happen due to Fitzgerald. Those people were turned in and are being prosecuted. No one is supporting them. Fitzgerald also had nothing to do with Scott Walker's administration in Milwaukee County. Maybe we should focus on this district and who is better suited to serve and represent it? Maybe we should decide based on what the candidates are for and what they will vote for and against over the next 4+ years, since that is what the job is for and about.


State Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald, just a misunderstood pragmatic politician?

What a joke of a story.
See the videos of the enraged Fitzgerald shouting down appalled Democrats as he rammed through mean spirited undemocratic bills.
The Republicans were quoted - "We are going for everything" once they had the Assembly, Senate and the Governorship.
Fitzgerald's disgusting last minute cobbling together of the infamous union-busting bill was only legitimized by the Supreme Court responding to his demand they rule on the issue immediately. Their premature decision declared the Senate is free to ignore its own rules (laws) as it proceeds and therefore what Fitzgerald's Senate did was not illegal.

Republicans like Fitzgerald are all smiles as they buy food at the State Fair in previous years, but they just proved a year ago they will do all they can to steal tax dollars from schools and dedicated state workers to hand over to large corporations as exemptions from taxes.

Lori is a nice person. No she has never done anything worng in her political career.........She also hasn't done anything right. This does not make her a better rep. I see a bunch of people talking about her as a person, but our goal is not to elect the nicest person or neighbor. The key is what is she for and against? What is her platform? Can she budget? what does she know about infrastructure, school finance, state finance, social services, zoning, law and law creation, etc. etc.? She admitedly didn't even want this job. she was angry at the republicans taking away CB and costing her husband $$. She started the recall process and then after all her effort no one stepped up to run, so rather than let the effort go to waste she ran. She won't have to sorry about changing careers, as she's trailing 40-54% in the polls. I don't think that is giving her opponent Fits, but it probably is driving the union leaders, Dems, and liberals nuts!!!


How condescending of you middleoftheroad. "Can she budget? what does she know about infrastructure..." Not sure the "little woman" can handle herself with MEN in the state senate? Or are you just as bigoted about women's rights as is Fitzgerald?

Always jumping to drop the race or gender card are we??? I said nothing of the sort. I was referring to her profession and the fact that she is a photographer and writer. It's not like she is an economist, accountant, lawyer, businessperson, or engineer.. Does writing and taking pics make her qualified to be a rep? Nice try spinning way off course again to make a failed point?. I get a little tired responding to your constant stream of extreme, fringe rhetoric.


The major frustration for Fitzgeral is that he recally cant attack Lori on anythign because she has done nothing wrong except step up to be his challenger. Therefore, he has to get personal with her. Shame on him. I hope people in his district see him for what he really is--someone with little regard for women, and send him packing.

Phil Ball
Phil Ball

Lori Compas is an educated mother of two, creator of a productive small business and originator of the successful campaign to recall Scott Fitzgerald. Lori has spoken out against the documented crimes committed by Scott Walker and his staff and administration; her opponent supports these criminals with his silence.
What crimes?
Read for yourself the official criminal complaints of the FBI and the John Doe investigation targeting Scott Walker ( be aware; the language is explicit and some may find it as offensive as the crimes themselves).
(1) http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/120105_State_v_Pierick.pdf
(2) http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/large/120105_State_v_Russell.pdf
(3) Walker staff granted immunity for their crimes in exchange for testimony against Walker
(4) (fraud) theft from phony veterans charities
(5) (fraud) stealing donations meant for children of veterans killed in war
(6) (embezzlement) collecting public funds for personal use

Lori Compas is appalled at this open criminality and says so.
Scott Fitzgerald, her opponent and Walker's spokesperson in the Senate says nothing. He has shown the same tolerance for these crimes as Walker himself.

Try to imagine the change in Wisconsin if Lori Compas bounces Fitzgerald's butt.
Cops cheering for the new law and order climate( Walker already lied to them about Right-To-Work legislation but they caught him and changed their support to opposition).
Every thinking worker is going to relish the rejection of Walker for trying to make Wisconsin another Mississippi Right-To-Work state.
Every citizen can celebrate the beginning of repairing the damage caused by Firzgerald and Walker.
And leading this parade is someone just like you.
She's smart. She's mature. She's respectful. She's your best neighbor. She's Wisconsin, not like it is but like it should be.
She is Senator-to-be Lori Compas.
She is this veteran's hero and she should be yours.