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Dems hold, GOP maintains edge after recall finale

By   /   August 17, 2011  /   14 Comments

By M.D. Kittle and Alissa Smith | Wisconsin Reporter

KENOSHA, Wis.  — On the heels of last week’s Republican power hold, incumbent Democrats held off ouster from two relatively unknown challengers Tuesday to maintain the Republican’s razor-thin Senate majority at 17-16.

What looked like a surprise upset in the Democrat’s turn at the recall dance rapidly faded into a runaway win for the incumbent in the 22nd Senate District.

State Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, beat Jonathan Steitz, an attorney, also of Pleasant Prairie, by a 58 percent to 42 percent margin, respectively, in the grand finale of Wisconsin’s summer of recall elections.

Wirch won by 6,703 votes — or 25,541 to 18,838 — in an extremely high-turnout election that saw long lines and ballot shortages at some Kenosha County polling places.

“I am proud to continue to represent the people of the Kenosha region,” Wirch said in a statement issued through the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. “The future of Wisconsin depends on the strength of our working, middle-class families, and I look forward to returning to Madison with two new Democratic Senators to enact a moderate Wisconsin agenda that supports them.”

Wirch’s statement was a nod to the Democrats’ two victories in last week’s super Tuesday of state Senate recall elections.

Four of six Senate Republicans kept their jobs, handing the GOP a hold on Senate power that they could not relinquish.

Steitz assured supporters in Kenosha that their voices were heard in the campaign.

“And I think we sent a clear message that we expect our representatives to act a certain way and that there are consequences if they don’t,” the candidate said.

The other winner, incumbent Jim Holperin, D-Conover, who easily defeated Eagle River businesswoman Kim Simac in the 12th District recall election.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting as of 11:43 p.m., Holperin held a 10-percentage point lead with 55 percent of the vote to Simac’s 45 percent — or 29,750 votes to 24,069 votes, respectively.

The race was considered a dead heat by some, a blowout by others, depending on the polling information. One poll this week put Holperin up by double-digits, another put the race within the margin of error.

Campaign officials said the ground game, not partisan polls, would make the difference in a heated battle that marked Holperin as derelict in his senatorial duties and Simac delinquent on her property taxes.

The Republican made several annual tax payments on her North Woods properties late.

Holperin, like Wirch, fled the state this past winter along with 12 other Democrats in the Senate, hiding in Illinois to avoid a vote on the Gov. Scott Walker-led budget-repair bill and sweeping changes to collective bargaining in Wisconsin.

The bill eventually passed, along with others, filling a $3 billion-plus biennial budget gap and curtailing collective-bargaining for many public workers.

Streets around the Capitol swelled with Walker and GOP protesters, mostly backed by big unions, and counter protests.

The havoc spun into political blood lust, with Democrats targeting six Republicans in recall petition drive. Three Democrats were called to the recall platform.

Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen, of Green Bay, was the first of the nine state senators to face ousting election, but easily survived last month.

What does it all mean now that the dust is beginning to clear?

Republicans say they’ve got the numbers. But with Tuesday’s hold, keeping the GOP edge thin, Democrats say it could mean a change in the way the majority deals with the growing minority.

Joe Heim, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political science professor, said he sees the possibility for more collaboration between the two parties, particularly with Republican moderates like Sens. Dale Schultz and Sheila Harsdorf in the mix.

But that olive branch could turn thorny if Democrats push forward on their big prize — the recall of Walker. The rhetoric didn’t seem to change Tuesday, with Democrats still talking about their petition drive coming in November to put the governor on the recall ballot in 2012.

Heim said he sees that fire dissipating, particularly among voting Democrats. He asserts Walker, too, is acting in kind.

“The fact that the governor is reaching out and making several attempts to reach out to other side tells me he’s seen handwriting on the wall here,” he said. “He doesn’t want to go through this either. So now I think you can look toward legislative proposals that might be more bipartisan in nature.”

Republicans scored huge victories in the previous session, in budget cuts, holding the line on property tax increases and the piece de resistance — the collective-bargaining changes. The question is, is that victory enough?

The Democratic wins, Heim asserts, are a message by a majority of voters in those districts that the senators did not fail in their duties, or that leaving their post did not rise to the demand of recall.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald sees the final verdict differently.

“What we saw tonight is a rejection of the recall process,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “The Democrats and their friends spent tens of millions on attack ads, talked about everything but the issues, and cared more about their own political gain than what’s good for Wisconsin.”

The Juneau Republican said the problems facing Wisconsin are too serious for “these political games, and the Democrats’ permanent campaign cycle.”

“The Democrats need to start working with the other side of the aisle, not just moving on to their next recall target,” Fitzgerald said.

“Wisconsin now emerges from this recall election season with a united Republican majority who has beaten off an attack from national unions and special interests and emerged steadfastly committed to carrying forward a bold job creation agenda,” said Brad Courtney, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, in a statement.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, shot back that Wirch’s “landslide victory” was a “historic rejection of Gov. Walker’s extreme and hyperpartisan agenda.”

Turnout in many parts of the recall targeted districts was running above 40 percent, according to clerks.

In Kenosha County, long lines meant 30- to 45-minute waits during peak voting times.

Kenosha County Clerk Mary Schuch-Krebs said her office was printing ballots on demand as polling stations began to run low late in the day. The Government Accountability Board, or GAB, the state’s election agency, directed some county sites to split the voting list to move voters through more efficiently.

Schuch-Krebs said lines were slower due to GAB requirements requiring poll workers to ask voters for photo Identification and to have voters sign the ballot books. She said it added time to every vote, but clerks statewide are working out the kinks for upcoming elections.


  • Bonnie Jotblad

    I’m sorry to read this. These two senators fled the state when they should have stayed and done their jobs. I can’t imagine why they would be put back into their seats. It’s all about the unions. They are destroying our country and have long outlived their usefulness.

  • Daniel

    Dems showed again they are masters at stealing elections with corrupt union help; until the GOP has the spine to face up to this and combat against is ferociously they may as well not even bother to run candidates.

  • Pat

    The Republicans can victory for there agenda but what a price for the people of Wisconsin. Millions of dollars wasted on lawyers and security that, if indeed we have a budget crisis, could have been better spent. Given the polarization created by this new administration it will take years for our state to recover if ever.

  • Bud

    Last night ended a sad day for the 12th district, a sad day for WI and a tragic day for democracy. The enlightened voters of the 12 actually elected someone who tried to thwart the democratic process. In addition, the election here was marred by lying, character assination, property damage and even violence. Welcome to thuggocracy.

  • bananni

    I am absolutely sick that the lying criminals remain in office so they can contineu to take our state back to being bankrupt.

  • Lynnda

    Wirch was smirking so much last night it was upsetting. Elections matter. I hope those people are happy that they have someone like that representing them. Thank God that the elections last week turned out the way they did so that the Democrats don’t have control again. It’s great that Wisconsin is going forward properly and that these 2 races truly didn’t matter. It would have been very sweet to have gotten one or both of them out. But their constituents are more worried about themselves than what is good for Wisconsin. Talk about shame, shame, shame.

  • Michael Monson

    An election will be held in November 2012. Wirch & Holperin are up. 6 out of 8 incumbents won whether D or R so a process is complete. Changes are in for government workers and taxpayers will benefit.

  • Nikki

    It’s sad that many of you are still missing the point. They DID their jobs by listening to their constituents – that is why they were voted back in. The fact that 2 seats flipped too should be indication that the Republicans are not touting a moderate agenda, but an aggressive right -winged agenda. I agree both sides need to work together. Unions are not to blame either – I can tell you that since the new “law” went into effect my insurance changed, my deductible quadrupled and I’m losing a minimum of 10% of my net pay. Why do I need to shoulder WI’s debt? I have no problem paying my taxes – hell I think they should be raised to help the state and our nation, but it is unfair to expect only a msall portion of the the population to shoulder it.

  • Marine7076

    It only shows the mentality of those voter’s in those area’s. It is ok to schirk your duties and high tale it out of State to avoid a vote on a bill, that has proven to save the Taxpayer’s millions, and will bring this State out from under the debocale left by Doyle. Talk about shame, these people have no shame. They just want to keep their welfare checks coming in off the hard work of True American’s. The over-all picture is good for the Taxpayer, because the Majority has remained with the people who are concerned about this State and the Taxpayer, and that speaks far more volumes than just those two areas. There is still hope and the right change is happening. THANK GOD>

  • Bud

    The editor put in the words ‘your comment is awaiting moderation” to my 8/17, 0744 post. What I reported were the facts, were I exagerating, using obscene invective or simply making up false charges I could understand your demanding moderation. However, I can prove every word I uttered — can you prove those things did not happen? But I agree, in a way, we are awaiting moderation from the people who committed those acts.

  • Stan Smith

    Clearly a majority of the voters in the 12th and 22nd Districts disagree with your viewpoint. When you’re ready to put down the Republican talking points and get back to reality, be our guest.

  • Stan Smith

    Oh, so when Democrats win it’s “stealing elections with corrupt union help.” But when Republicans win it’s the will of the voters speaking. Do you see the double standard you’re creating or are you just too clueless?

  • St. George’s Cross

    “Unions are not to blame either …”

    Au contraire. Public sector unions are at the heart of the problem. Even FDR didn’t think public employee unions were a good idea.

    “I can tell you that since the new “law” went into effect…and I’m losing a minimum of 10% of my net pay. Why do I need to shoulder WI’s debt? ”

    The number of government employees, their level of total compensation (not just “net” pay) and the unresponsiveness of government to market forces are the reason the state is in debt. Would you rather experience a small reduction in compensation or play Russian roulette on whether your job will be one of the ones elimated if the Budget Repair Bill had not been enacted?

    “I have no problem paying my taxes – hell I think they should be raised to help the state and our nation, but it is unfair to expect only a msall portion of the the population to shoulder it.”

    If you want to see your taxes go up there are programs set up at both state and federal level where you can make contributions. Go make a payment, but leave me out of this. My taxes are already plenty high.

  • Lynnda

    Nikki: Wake up! You ARE the debt of Wisconsin. The public sector unions (which should not even exist) and the outlandish perks they require are (look up the Emeritus Teacher programs) what has put us in this position in the first place. So sorry your insurance changed (I trust it was away from that fraud WEA Trust – so that’s GREAT news for the rest of us). Mine changed 4 times in the past 10 years. It happens. And your deductible went up? Big boo hoo. You probably had next to no deductible for all of these years. I pay $60 whenever I see my doctors and have another $2000 out of pocket for sure per year for my medical expenses. That’s real money too. You are just creeping slightly closer to what the rest of us have to deal with all of the time. I’m in education too – at the college level. I’m smart enough to teach there, yet I make about half of what my friends in the K-12 system make. I’m OK with it because I love my job. I get mighty sick of them constantly complaining about how bad they have it. Give me a break. You will just have to get over being the “special” ones that the rest of us support. I have my own kids and my own life and my own retirement to try to manage one day (not at 55 – more like 70). So stop your whining and look around. You have it good only you’re too selfish to even realize it.