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Wisconsin GOP Stumbles In Effort To Rig Recalls

Republican efforts to inoculate themselves against recall hit a snag Monday when a moderate Republican announced his opposition to a plan that would permit recalls to happen in newly-drawn partisan districts.

Senator Mary Lazich introduced two bills on Friday that opponents say will rig recall elections in favor of Republicans. Democrats plan to start collecting signatures on November 15 to recall Governor Scott Walker, as well as state Senators who voted in favor of collective bargaining limits. Lazich’s bills are the latest in a series of moves by Wisconsin Republicans to change the recall election rules in their favor.

Redistricting and Recalls

One of the Lazich bills would have required that recalls be conducted in the new legislative boundaries re-drawn in this year’s partisan redistricting process. The law enacting the redistricting map says the new boundaries are not to take effect until November 2012, and the state elections board had determined the recall elections would take place in the old districts.

Lazich’s bill would overturn the election board’s determination and make the new maps effective next week, making a recall more difficult by putting GOP Senators in the much safer districts they created for themselves earlier this year. It would also put the maps into effect before two legal challenges to the new boundaries were resolved.

According to Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin, holding recall elections along the new boundaries would be “terribly confusing,” with “voters unsure about whether they are eligible to vote in their district, which could deter voters from turning out.”

It also would have put some voters into the position of recalling a Senator they never elected in the first place, and preventing other voters from recalling the Senator that they put in office.

“I’m not going to vote for [Lazich’s bill] because the people who sent me to Madison are the ones who should decide whether I ought to be recalled or not,” said Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richmond Center). “I’m not interested in further adding confusion by changing the rules.”

With Republicans holding only a one-vote Senate majority, Schultz’ vote against Lazich’s bill means that it will not pass (assuming all Democrats oppose it). Senate Republicans held a 19-14 majority until recall elections this summer removed two Republicans from office, narrowing the GOP majority to 17-16. In March, Schultz voted against Governor Walker’s controversial Act 10 limiting collective bargaining rights, but under the Senate makeup at the time, his opposition was not enough to keep the bill from becoming law.

For some, the fact that extreme Republican bills can no longer be steamrolled through the legislature is proof that last summer’s recall elections were effective.

Notary Requirement for Recall Petitions

Another Lazich proposal introduced Friday and originally scheduled for a vote Tuesday (but delayed until Wednesday) would add an additional layer of process by requiring that each page of recall petitions be notarized. Organizers need over 540,000 signatures to recall Walker, and with up to ten signatures per page, more than 54,000 pages will need notarization. Lazich said the bill would bring “a little more accountability” for recall signature gatherers, but Common Cause’s Heck says the bill “assumes Wisconsin citizens are dishonest” and is intended “to result in fewer recall signatures.”

Scot Ross of the liberal One Wisconsin Now says of the last-minute bill that “if Mary Lazich thought recall signature notarization was such an issue, she had the last 20 years of her undistinguished career as a state legislator to do something about it,” pointing out that Lazich did not introduce bills to change recall election rules when Republicans threatened to recall former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle or Democratic U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.

Additionally, the notary bill may be unconstitutional. Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution deals with recalls, and sub-section (7) states:

Laws may be enacted to facilitate its operation but no law shall be enacted to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall.

Other Recall Rigging

These bills are part of a larger GOP effort to control the way elections and recalls are conducted.

Lazich, a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also introduced the ALEC-inspired voter ID legislation that will make it significantly more difficult for students, people of color, and the elderly to vote in Wisconsin.

In late September, Republican lawmakers announced they would give Governor Walker authority to reverse two elections policies developed by the non-partisan Government Accountability Board.

One policy would have allowed voters to access a form online, print their recall petition, sign it, then send it to the group coordinating recalls. It would have made it easier for those collecting recall petitions because the groups would not have to gather the signatures face-to-face and door-to-door.

The other would have permitted universities to put stickers on student ID cards that could then be used for voting. Wisconsin’s new voter ID law permits the use of student IDs for voting, but only if the ID includes certain information not currently on any of the student IDs issued in the state. The sticker would have allowed student IDs to meet the necessary criteria, and made it easier for students to participate in recall votes.

The Republican-led Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, led by ALEC member Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon), told the Board these matters should not have been adopted as “policies,” but instead as administrative rules, which require the approval of Governor Walker. Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) told Republicans that, by giving Walker veto power over the rules that govern his recall, “you have given the governor control of the chicken coop.”

The elections board backed down in response to pressure from Republicans, leading to accusations the non-partisan board had become politicized.

Even without these efforts, Governor Walker and state Republicans already have an advantage in the recall elections. A loophole in campaign law allows for unlimited funding and spending during the recall signature-gathering period. These additional efforts by the GOP to change election rules in their favor suggest that Walker and his party are taking the recall threat seriously.

By: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, November 2, 2011

November 3, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deceitful And Strange Bedfellows: After Months Of Rancor, Two Governors Alter Tones

After Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican in his first months in office, announced early this year that he wanted to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers, relations between political parties in his newly red State Capitol fell into a long, deep frost.

But after six months of bruising partisan fights, Mr. Walker seemed to issue an utterly different message this month. He said he wanted to meet with Democrats and to find shared agenda items — an invitation that has been met with polite acceptance and deep skepticism.

“My thought is, you start out with small things, you build trust, you move forward, you keep working on things and you try and pick as many things that are things that people can clearly work together on,” Mr. Walker, who may face a recall election next year, said in an interview.

In the months after a flurry of Republican wins of governors’ offices and state legislatures in 2010, perhaps nowhere was the partisan rancor more pronounced than in the nation’s middle — places like Wisconsin and Ohio, where fights over labor unions exploded. But now, at least in those states, there are signs that the same Republicans see a need to show, at least publicly, a desire to play well with others.

In both states, critics dismiss the moves as desperate attempts to shore up sinking popularity ratings or disingenuous, tardy strategies to appear agreeable after already ramming through their agendas.

“It’s all P.R. — none of it is substantive,” Mark Miller, the Democrats’ minority leader in the Wisconsin State Senate, said earlier this month, before Mr. Walker held what some described as a “cordial” meeting with the Democratic leaders last week.

Whatever the true substance of the offers, the recent tones in Ohio and Wisconsin do appear to show one thing: With threats of recalls and bill repeals, with public dismay in recent months over the partisan stalemate in Washington on the debt ceiling, and with battleground-state presidential politics looming in 2012, governing with majorities has turned out in some states to be more complicated than it may have first appeared.

Across the nation, partisan relations in statehouses where Republicans made significant gains last fall have varied widely, and in many cases there are no signs of softening messages — or even the need for such a thing. But leaders in other states, including some that are expected to consider limits to unions in the months ahead, are closely watching what unfolds now in Ohio and Wisconsin, the states that became the unexpected battle zones for an earlier season of discontent.

In Columbus, Democrats and union leaders were enraged this year when Gov. John R. Kasich, another first-term Republican governor, and the Republicans who now control both chambers of the legislature pushed through — mostly along partisan lines— a law that would limit the rights of public workers to bargain collectively.

Republicans in Ohio advocated for the measure as the logical response to shrunken budgets in towns, cities and counties. But union leaders and Democrats — and a group calling itself We Are Ohio — spent months collecting more than 900,000 valid signatures (hundreds of thousands more than needed) to put the law to a vote in a statewide referendum in November. A campaign, which is expected to draw significant interest and spending from political groups in Ohio and nationwide, is likely to begin in earnest soon.

Last week, Mr. Kasich and Republican leaders sent a letter to the union organizers, calling for a meeting to discuss a compromise. The leaders said they still believed in the law they had passed, and a spokesman for Mr. Kasich would not say precisely what areas the Republicans were willing to give in on. “We are prepared to move forward immediately with legislative action to implement any agreement on changes we are able to reach together,” the letter read.

“We ought to get to the table and we ought to talk about it,” Mr. Kasich told reporters on Friday, meeting with them in a room full of empty seats and placards for the absent organizers, although the organizers said they had turned down the invitation. “Is it too late?” Mr. Kasich asked. “It’s never too late.”

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, said the new invitation did not mark any shift in Mr. Kasich’s approach; the governor had sought to talk to labor groups during the legislative fight, Mr. Nichols said, and some representatives had engaged in private discussions over the issue again in June before the unions ended those talks, he said. “He, more than most, has a long history of working across party lines,” Mr. Nichols said.

But critics balked at the notion that any real talks had been offered before or that any true, concrete compromises — not just photo opportunities for a public fatigued by partisan rancor — were being offered now.

“If they’re honestly coming forward for a compromise, repeal the bill and then we’ll talk,” said Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, explaining why representatives for the group had declined to meet with Mr. Kasich on Friday. “If they wanted to get along, they probably should have tried to during the legislative process instead of locking people out.”

In Wisconsin, partisan relations — and that state’s fight over limits to collective bargaining — have proved still uglier.

In the weeks after Mr. Walker proposed the limits in February, state lawmakers, newly dominated by Republicans in the Capitol, split in two. The minority Senate Democrats fled the state to try to block a vote on the measure. The Republicans issued the lawmaking equivalent of warrants against them, and at one point, threatened that the Democrats had to collect their paychecks in person — or not get them at all. And, as protesters screamed outside his closed office door, Mr. Walker firmly defended the bargaining cuts and said his administration was “certainly looking at all legal options” against the other party.

But after a summer of expensive, brutal recall election efforts against nine state senators — Democrats for having fled the state, and Republicans for having supported the bargaining cuts — Mr. Walker seemed to be sounding a different, softer note. He said he had called Democratic leaders in the Legislature even before the polls closed in some of this month’s recalls, which, in the end, maintained the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, though by a slimmer margin of 17 to 16 in the Senate.

Democrats in the state had harsh theories about what was behind Mr. Walker’s sudden wish to get along. Some said he had already accomplished a stunningly partisan agenda, including the bargaining cuts, an austere budget, a voter identification law, a concealed-firearms provision and a redistricting map that favored Republicans, and was now hoping to appear to be reaching out. Others said he feared a different recall election effort — against him — next year, as well as creating a drag in the state on any Republican presidential ticket.

“This is totally phony — a totally unbelievable act of desperation,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. “It will fade away and return soon enough to the scorched-earth method that has marked his career.”

Reflecting on the start of his term, Mr. Walker said that he wished he had spent more time “building a case” with the public for why collective bargaining cuts could shore up budgets, but that he remained a firm supporter of the cuts themselves — a fact that seems certain to complicate any effort for bipartisanship now.

“I’m not thinking that just because we snap our fingers that suddenly everybody’s going to run out and work together and it’s all going to work perfectly,” the governor said.

By: Monica Davey, The New York Times, August 21, 2011

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Break For Wisconsin Democrats In Recall Fight

At first glance, this will seem deep in the weeds, but this just in from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal constitutes a real break for Wisconsin Dems in their quest to take back the state senate in the recall wars:

State elections officials Monday took a Republican Assembly lawmaker off the ballot in a recall election against a Democratic senator.

The state Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to leave Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) off the ballot in the July 19 recall election for Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) in the 30th Senate District. The board found that Nygren fell just short of collecting the 400 valid nominating signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, finding he collected only 398 valid signatures.

The accountability board had initially found that Nygren had submitted 424 qualifying signatures from voters. But after a number of signatures were challenged by Democrats, the accountability board found that 26 of those were invalid.

In a nutshell, what happened here is that one of the Dem state senators that Dems and labor thought was genuinely vulnerable to a recall challenge — Dave Hansen — will now no longer face his toughest challenger. Once it has been established through signature gathering that a recall election will be held against a sitting official, a potential challenger only requires 400 signatures to get on the ballot in the recall elections. Hansen’s leading challenger, John Nygren, fell short and was disqualified.

Hansen is now all but certain to face a challenge from a far weaker candidate — David VanderLeest. According to Journal Sentinel columnist David Bice, this latest challenger has a court record that includes disorderly conduct.

Kelly Steele, a spokesman for the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin, was thrilled about the new development, claiming that VanderLeest’s “rap sheet reads like a directory of the Wisconsin state criminal code.”

Here’s why this is important. In order to take back the state senate, Dems need to net three recall wins. Six Republicans face recall battles; while only three Dems do. But now one of the three Dems may be far safer than previously thought, which means Dems may have an easier time netting three wins — and that Wisconsin GOPers may have a tougher time hanging onto the state senate.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, June 27, 2011

June 27, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Governors, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Democrats Must Fight Back Against Wisconsin GOP Shenanigans Or Risk Losing

A potential bombshell development out in Wisconsin.

As you know, Wisconsin Republicans have hatched a scheme to meddle in Dem primaries in order to delay the recall elecions against GOP state senators in a last ditch maneuver to save their hides.

Now a top labor group heavily involved in the recall wars is responding: It is publicly sounding the alarm about the GOP tactics, and arguing that Democrats must respond in kind or risk failing to take back the state senate.

We Are Wisconsin — which is one of the biggest labor-backed groups involved in the fight — has just issued a public statement stating that it would be in the interests of Democrats to respond to the GOP shenanigans by running their own candidates against Republicans in GOP primaries, just as Republicans are doing to Dems.

In a major development, the group argues that the strategic and on-the-ground implications of the GOP tactics are far more complex and serious a threat to Dem chances than has been publicly explained. They argue that if Republicans do this and Dems don’t, the GOP will be able to dictate the election calendar with a free hand, deciding which general recall elections happen on July 12th and which on August 9th — a huge strategic advantage for Republicans.

Without GOP primaries, the group argues, GOP state senators will automatically advance to the general recall elections, allowing Republican voters in their districts to vote for the fake, GOP-backed “Democratic” candidates in the Dem primaries, making it more likely that the real Dem loses the primary and doesn’t even advance to the recall election. (If there’s also a GOP primary, Republican voters won’t be able to vote in both primaries under Wisconsin law.) And without GOP primaries, all the unlimited outside national conservative money could be channeled into boosting the fake “Democrat” and annhilating the real Dem. The group concludes:

Given the situation Republicans have so despicably concocted to manipulate these recall elections, it is the opinion of We Are Wisconsin that it would be in the interest of Democrats to run candidates in the Republican primaries to ensure the dates of the general election are predictably on August 9th, and that Republicans are forced to win a primary election instead of diverting their unlimited resources to back their “fake” candidates against “legitimate” Democrats. To that end, it would be in the interest of flipping the Wisconsin Senate that interested Democrats contact the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

This opinion is not rendered lightly. This is the most cynical manipulation of the Wisconsin electoral process in our state’s history, and is being done by a Republican party that has demonstrated no respect for the rule of law and our state’s tradition of clean elections and good governance. Unfortunately, however, after evaluating the strategic implications of their despicable tactics, to simply stand idly by would amount to unilateral disarmament and would almost certainly thwart the will of the hundreds of thousands of voters who support recalling Republican Senators in the upcoming elections.

Democrats and liberals have repeatedly described the GOP tactic of meddling in Dem primaries as a dirty trick designed to rig the recalls, and conservatives are now likely to cry hypocrisy. But it’s clear that the situation created by the GOP maneuver is far more complex and potentially dire for Dems than previously understood, and without a Democratic response, Dems would in effect be consigning themselves to defeat by tying their own hands behind their backs while Republicans manipulate the law to their advantage.

The question now is whether Dems will hear this message and respond in kind.

 

By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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