Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Wisconsin Recall Elections


The voting prompted by Gov. Scott Walker's anti-collective bargaining bill begins today. But the recall movement's spread to other states, too.


Updated with results 7/13/11


That is the number of state legislative elections Wisconsinites may potentially vote in between now and the end of 2011. Between the primaries and the generals, there are 17 elections being held in relation to the nine state senators -- there are 33 total in office -- who were recalled in the clatter and hullabaloo that followed Gov. Scott Walker's successful defense of his budget "repair" bill last winter and spring.

And since three of the Democratic contenders are members of the state house of representatives, their positions would need to be filled in special elections, should they succeed in unseating the incumbent Republican senators. That could bump the number up to 20 -- a number does not even take into account the special regional elections that may need to take place for challengers who currently hold positions such as county board supervisor.

It's enough to test one's commitment to democracy.

Of course, Wisconsin's most famous recall effort was a failed one, the 1954 "Joe Must Go" effort against Sen. Joe McCarthy, which fell 70,000 signatures short. Wisconsin has only ever recalled two state legislators, the last 15 years ago, when Republican Senator George Petak paid the price after changing his vote to support a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to pay for the construction of the Milwaukee Brewers' Miller Park stadium.

Here is a 2011 Wisconsin Recall Scorecard, with a little trivia from each upcoming race, and the results of each race concluded so far:


Democratic primary races were forced by the Wisconsin GOP after the party recruited "protest" Republicans to run against the Democratic Party's official candidates to prolong the GOP-controlled legislature's chance to pass more bills. This maneuver by the party of fiscal responsibility is estimated to cost an extra $50,000 per primary.

While it was a long shot, there was a remote possibility that one of the protest candidates could beat a real Democrat. Wisconsin has open primaries, meaning voters can cross parties and vote any way they like.

In the end, though, all of the "real" Democrats won their respective races and will move on to face the six recalled Republican state senators on August 9.

The voting numbers from the forced Democratic primaries do hold a few clues about the mental state of the state of Wisconsin (and the nation). 62,443 Wisconsinites found time Tuesday to make it to a poll a vote for a candidate they knew to be a Republican running in "protest" as a Democrat. And while it does not top the show of tens of thousands who repeatedly went to the Capitol in Madison in February to protest the budget repair bill, that's a considerable counter demonstration of ideology.

At the same time, nearly every genuine Democratic candidate won his or her primary by a margin of at least 30-some points. This is being billed as a "cruise to victory" and it was -- in the sense that, say, it's an easy victory to score with your wife. That a bunch of publicly fake Democrats with, in one case, just $750 from the state party and no actual campaign effort could come within 50 points of their opponents in the Democratic Party's own primary election should be a wake-up call to the Democrats about just how much turnout will determine the outcomes in most of the recall elections to come.

District 32 Democratic Primary: Rep. Jennifer Shilling vs. protest candidate James Smith to face Republican Senator Dan Kapanke. Primary Winner: Shilling.

Trivia: Probably the senator most likely to lose his seat, Kapanke was recorded at an event saying: "We've got tons of government workers in my district. Tons.... We've got to hope that they, kind of, are sleeping on July 12th, or whenever the date is." A late June poll showed Kapanke trailed Shilling by 14 points.

District 14 Democratic Primary: Rep. Fred Clark vs. protest candidate Rol Church to face Republican Senator Luther Olsen. Primary Winner: Clark.

Trivia: It's a race to the bottom of the stupid hole in Dist. 14 as Luther Olsen's clumsily attempts to do himself in by authoring a legislative amendment that financially enriches his wife were only outdone by Clark, who recently apologized after he was secretly recorded saying of a constituent, "I feel like calling her back and smacking her around."

District 18 Democratic Primary: Jessica King vs. protest candidate John Buckstaff to face Republican Senator Randy Hopper. Primary Winner: King.

Trivia: That Hopper was exposed as only having paid Wisconsin income taxes once in the decade between 1997 and 2008 and that a recall campaign flyer of his directed callers to a phone sex line were the senator's less embarrassing scandals. During the height of the recall signature gathering, petitioners at Hopper's home were met by his wife, who informed them that Hopper was now living with his 25-year-old "mistress" in Madison. Hopper's maid then signed the recall petition.

But what really bodes poorly for Hopper is that he's faced King before, in 2008, when he eked out a victory of only 163 votes of more than 83,600 cast.

In the primary, Buckstaff stayed in character to the end, issuing a concession after his race was called for his opponent.

District 10 Democratic Primary: Shelly Moore vs. protest candidate Isaac Weix to face Republican Senator Sheila Harsdorf. Primary Winner: Moore.

Trivia: It's unclear if Moore's position on the board of the state's largest teacher union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, will be a help or a hindrance to her candidacy. What is clear is that Weix is taking his fall-guy role with all the seriousness of a Marine, which he was. Following a non-scandal about Moore's use of her school email to mention the recalls (before she was a candidate), Weix, a Republican candidate for the Wisconsin house last year, issued a statement: "For the sake of the integrity of the legal democratic process, and the reputation of the Democratic Party it is time for Ms. Moore to withdraw her candidacy."

District 8 Democratic Primary: Rep. Sandy Pasch vs. protest candidate Gladys Huber to face Republican Senator Alberta Darling. Winner: Pasch.

Trivia: Darling won in 2008 by only one point and her fate will come down to turnout. Darling may have been safe had she not been recorded saying of Wisc. Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare voucher program: "I'm standing with Ryan anytime, anywhere." (Attaching native son Ryan and his Medcare plan to recalled Republicans is a common strategy. Shilling has been doing it too; and in May, a scheduled appearance of Ryan at a fundraiser for Shilling's opponent Dan Kapanke mysteriously fell apart.)

District 2 Democratic Primary: Nancy Nusbaum vs. protest candidate Otto Junkerman to face Republican Senator Robert Cowles. Winner: Nusbaum.

Trivia: A one-term Republican state representative in the 1980s, octogenarian Otto C. Junkerman called the police on his own son for drug use. Junkerman's wife promptly divorced him.


District 12 GOP Primary: Kim Simac vs. Robert Lussow to face Democrat Senator Jim Holperin

Trivia: Kim Simac, the "family values" candidate and founder of Northwoods Patriots ("Standing up for FAITH, Family and Country") explains the fact that she swapped spouses with her ex as "one of those quirky American stories."

District 22 GOP Primary: Jonathan Steitz vs. Fred Ekornaas to face Democrat Senator Bob Wirch

Jump to comments
Presented by

Abe Sauer grew up shoveling cow manure and now covers politics. He is working on a book of humor about North Dakota.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.


A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.



More in Politics

Just In