Before this year, Wisconsin had only seen a handful of successful attempts to recall public officials. That changed dramatically last spring, as recall efforts against 16 state senators got underway.
The recalls were based on where lawmakers stood on the collective bargaining issue; Democrats for leaving the state to prevent a vote and Republicans for supporting the bill. UW-Madison Political Scientist Charles Franklin called it a very unusual situation to see so many lawmakers targeted all at one time.
Thousands of signatures were needed and several of the campaigns fell short of their goal. More than enough signatures were gathered though to force elections against six Republican and three Democratic lawmakers.
David Vanderleest, who helped organize the effort targeting Green Bay Democrat Dave Hansen, says the polarized environment caused by the collective bargaining debate made it easy to get people to sign. He noted how clearly the state was divided at the time. Vanderleest unsuccessfully challenged Hansen in the race, which was the first to be resolved.
Following a legal battle over signature challenges to the petitions, primaries for the rest were set for July. Republicans drew criticism for running “fake Democrats” in some of those races, a move Senate GOP Leader Scott Fitzgerald defended as necessary because it gave their members an extra month to campaign after the budget debate. Without primaries, those elections would have been held in early July.
The six Republicans were the first to face elections on August ninth. Democrats fell short of winning the three seats needed to control the Senate, but state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said defeating Senators Dan Kapanke of La Crosse and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac was still a big win. Republicans argued their ability to hang on to the majority was a sign that results beat out rhetoric with voters.
The two remaining Democrats successfully won re-election a week later.
Despite falling short of their goal to flip the Senate, Democrats have kept their focus on recalls. In November they launched a drive to collect the more than 540,000 signatures needed to recall Governor Scott Walker. Four more GOP Senators are also facing recalls. The state will find out in mid-January if those efforts will succeed.
AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (2:00)