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Wisconsin swaps one election cycle for another

By   /   July 13, 2012  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead  |  Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – The 2012 recall elections petered to an end this week – just in time for the U.S. Senate race to truly take off.

GOP Senate candidates have launch ad campaigns and stumping around the state in preparation for the Aug. 14 Republican primary.

But the lone Democratic candidate for the Senate seat,  U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, out with her own ads and the target of a $500,000 ad buy this week, isn’t lacking from attention.

And in a bit of non-election news, some of the state’s pension recipients are complaining that their benefits are being cut while the retirement system’s managers rake in big money.

Recall results shift power

Democrats are back in charge of the state Senate, for what it’s worth at the moment, after state Sen. Van Wanggaard decided Tuesday not to legally challenge the results of the Senate District 21 recall election. He lost to Democratic Sen.-elect John Lehman by 819 votes.

Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, left, conceded defeat to Democratic Sen.-elect John Lehman, right, on Tuesday after a recount of the June 5 recall indicated Lehman won by 819 votes.

Lehman ‘s victory puts Democrats in control of the state Senate, but the slim 17-16 majority could evaporate if Republicans prevail in the November elections. Eight Senate seats are up for grabs.

“Despite pleas from around the state to challenge the election, it is not in the best interests of Racine, or Wisconsin, at this time,” Wanggaard, a Racine Republican, said in a statement. “Now is the time to focus on gaining the state Senate back in November, winning Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seat, and electing Governor (Mitt) Romney as President.”

Senators are expected to come back into session Tuesday for the formal changing of the guard that will put Democrats in charge.

Even as the recalls officially end, however, much of the campaign cash remains.

And it appears state law is a little murky on how that money comes and goes.

“It’s the honor system at work, and that is of concern,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a liberal-leaning organization that tracks election spending in the state.

Senate candidates race to the finish line

One month before the Republican primary to pick a contender in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl in November, the campaign finally has started to heat up.

“It seems like, for the most part, it was sort of a quiet June, but expect some heavy rock ’em sock ’em action between now and Aug. 14,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Charles Franklin, who this year is directing a series of political polls for Marquette Law School.

The latest poll, released Wednesday, shows former Gov. Tommy Thompson still in the lead, but Madison businessman Eric Hovde leaping into second place, thanks to a 9-percent increase in his support from last month’s poll.

According to the poll:

  • Thompson continues to lead, at 35 percent of likely primary voters.
  • Hovde’s support has jumped to 23 percent, up from 14 percent in mid-June.
  • Support for former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald has declined in the past month, with Neumann dropping from 16 percent to 10 percent, and Fitzgerald from 10 percent to 6 percent.

Eric Hovde

Marquette polled 1,000 registered voters, was conducted by landline and cellphone, between Thursday and Sunday.

The poll included 810 likely voters and 432 likely GOP voters, with a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points for questions related to the Republican primary.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Baldwin, D-2nd District, in November.

Thompson is the only candidate who beats Baldwin in head-to-head matchups in the Marquette poll, but his lead has declined from a month ago and is within the poll’s margin of error.

On Thursday, American Commitment, which advocates free-market policies and limited government, launched a nearly $500,000 television ad buy aimed, the group said, at “exposing Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s record of putting special interests ahead of Wisconsin jobs.”

Tammy Baldwin

Baldwin and the other candidates are up on air as well.

Baldwin’s latest ad takes on the GOP regarding Medicare.

“When Nana became frail it was my honor to help take care of her, so when people in Washington talk about slashing Medicare benefits instead of asking millionaires to pay their fair share, I know it’s wrong,” the congresswoman says in the ad. “I’m Tammy Baldwin, the granddaughter of David and Doris Green, and I’m proud to approve this message.”

Pension equity?

The Wisconsin Retirement System paid its fund managers bonuses totaling $13.1 million over four years while refusing to pay state retirees $3.1 billion in cost of living increases, Wisconsin Reporter investigation revealed.

In 2011 alone, Wisconsin Reporter discovered, 67 investment staff members at the State of Wisconsin Investment Board received $4,231,229 in bonuses — an average of more than $63,000 per person.

The bonuses were paid out of state pension assets.

Vicki Hearing, SWIB’s communications director, said the bonuses are necessary to recruit and retain quality investment staff.

“I think from our perspective, even in difficult economic times, which this is, it’s just as important to reward good investment performance, especially when our staff has performed 75 percent better than other public pension funds and have done it for less money,” she said.

SWIB’s 20-year annualized return for the Core Trust Fund at the end of 2011 was 8.1 percent. That was actually about the same as average returns to all investors in the S&P 500.

Among the features of the lauded WRS —  a system that gives pension managers the flexibility to cancel cost-of-living increases paid to retirees in the form of bonuses.

When Donald Savoy of Lodi retired from teaching in 1994, the average teacher salary was around $36,000. Today, the same position pays an average of $55,000, and the formula for calculating pensions is more generous. Savoy’s base pension is about a third of what new retirees receive.

“What I don’t see is they don’t take from everyone equally,” Savoy said. “They have to go back and take from us. We have a mortgage. I have medical bills. I’m 73 now, it’s destroying us financially. Last year I lost over $200 a month.”

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