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."

Presented by

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

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

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


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In