New chapter in Wisconsin political saga begins today with primary recall elections

If misery loves company, we Minnesotans, in the midst of our political misery, should find comfort in knowing that Wisconsin remains mired in political angst. 

Today, a long, ugly series of recall elections begin.

Those elections, which in some cases include Republicans masquerading as Democrats, won’t end until Aug. 16.

Elections will decide control of Wisconsin Senate
Then, it’s possible — but most pundits believe unlikely — that Democrats, might be in the majority of the state Senate. Democrats, currently in the minority by a 19-14 margin, would have to hold all of their current seats and win three other recall elections to gain control.

Statewide, Democrats are challenging incumbent Republicans in six districts. In each of those cases, the Democrats must compete in a primary because Republicans, claiming to be Dems, jumped into the races.

Three sitting Democrats also are being challenged. But in those cases, real Republicans are fighting each other to get a chance to take on a seated Democrat.

What is clear is that passions are running high among the true believers on either side of the Republican-Democrat divide.

Among the true believers, Republicans are mad at Democrats for trying to recall Republicans simply because they didn’t like the politics of those who voted in support of Gov. Scott Walker’s extreme agenda.

Recall procedures have been around since 1926, Republicans point out, but it’s never been used like this. And that is fact.

Meantime, though, true-believer Democrats are fuming on two counts:

• They’re angry at Republicans who long represented themselves as moderate but then voted to support the Walker agenda.

• They’re furious that Republicans, claiming to be Democrats, have jumped into races against Democrats looking to unseat Republicans.

But those two angry groups likely represent the extremes of Wisconsin politics. How about all those in the middle? Where will they come down?  Or will they even participate in this parade of elections in a non-election year.

Most Wisconsin political scientists are saying the behavior of this middle group is the great unknown.

We Minnesotans do have a classic case of the noise and confusion that is Wisconsin politics being played out just across the river.

Incumbent Republican Sheila Harsdorf, Democrat Shelly Moore and Isaac Weix
Photos courtesy of candidates
Incumbent Republican Sheila Harsdorf, Democrat Shelly Moore and Isaac Weix

Longtime incumbent Republican Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, who for much of her 18-year legislative career portrayed herself as a moderate, is being challenged by Democrat Shelly Moore, a teacher/union activist from Ellsworth, for the District 10 Senate seat.

In April, a committee quickly garnered 23,000 signatures (only 15,000 were needed) on a recall Harsdorf petition. That petition drive came in the wake of Harsdorf’s support of the Walker agenda, including massive cuts in public education.

Shortly after the recall petition was completed, Moore was selected by the Dems to take on Harsdorf, who has breezed to victories in the district, which includes St. Croix County and parts of Burnett, Dunn, Pierce and Polk counties.

But after the Dems tapped Moore to represent them, lifelong Republican Isaac Weix of Menomonie, calling himself a Democrat, got into the race, forcing a primary race today for Moore.

GOP encouraging bogus Democratic candidates
The state’s Republican Party admits it encouraged these bogus candidates to get into races, not so much with the expectation of winning but as a way to slow down the process.

Wisconsin’s explosive legislative session stretched into June. The state party wanted to make sure that there was time for statewide passions to cool and for its candidates to have a chance to campaign.

Weix, a two-time political loser in local races, has raised no money and has done virtually no campaigning. Moore said she’s never even met the man.

But she also spent the last several days pounding on doors throughout the district making sure her supporters get to the polls today.

Weix hasn’t even bothered to do that.

In Wisconsin, voters can cross over in primaries, meaning Republicans could turn out and vote in the Democratic primary.

Clearly Weix expects that. He seems to think he has a chance to win.

“If you’re undecided, you’re not voting,” said Weix of the primary in an interview with the Associated Press. “This is about one side’s base versus the other’s.”

Moore’s followers claim that not only will their candidate win the primary, but the fake Democrat actually has made Moore’s base all the more enthused.

Clearly, the big money expects a Moore victory over Weix. An independent expenditure organization, Citizens for a Stronger America, is running costly anti-Moore ads on Twin Cities television stations.

Those ads pound on Moore’s background as a union activist, ending with a Moore speech in which she’s seen saying, “We breathe unions.”

Once upon a time in Wisconsin, being involved in a union wouldn’t have been a bad thing.
Now? That’s another of the subplots of this series of elections.

It should be noted that there is context to the “we breathe unions” line that is being used by those Citizens for a Stronger America.

In introducing herself as a first-time political candidate, Moore said, “We bleed Packer green, Brewer blue and Badger red. We believe that the three major food groups are beer, cheese and bratwurst. And we breathe unions, too.”

Harsdorf is not without claims near and dear to Wisconsin roots. She’s a dairy farmer.

There are also independent expenditure groups — funded by various unions — running anti-Harsdorf ads on Twin Cities stations, too. Those ads especially blast Harsdorf for deep cuts to K-12 education.

Assuming Moore wins today, the two will meet Aug. 9.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 07/12/2011 - 08:56 am.

    “The state party wanted to make sure that there was time for statewide passions to cool and for its candidates to have a chance to campaign.”

    That’s a charitable interpretation.


    1) more time for Walker to ram thru more crony deals for his pals and wreak more havoc on ordinary Badgers


    2) more time for the GOP to raise campaign cash and get their deceptive messaging act together since they seem to have had no idea that their ridiculous Alabama-with-snow agenda would be unpopular.

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 07/12/2011 - 09:13 am.

    A nightmare scenario: the false Dems win in the primaries by collecting crossover votes that the state GOP is quietly promoting.

    Quietly, because they are ashamed of their strategy?

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/12/2011 - 09:34 am.

    @ #2… Shame does not appear to be among the responses of which the right wing is capable. People calling themselves “conservative” have apparently lived lives that genuine saints would envy for their purity.

  4. Submitted by Michael Corcoran on 07/12/2011 - 10:13 am.

    Want to bet that more than two ‘bogus’ Democrats will win?

    This could end up being one of the most embarrassing moments for the Democrat Party anywhere.

  5. Submitted by John Ferman on 07/12/2011 - 11:47 am.

    Recall in Minnesota is more difficult. One of the grounds for the Courts to approve a Recall petition is the conviction of a serious crime. The two relating to malfeasance and nonfeasance are infinitely more difficult to apply effectively. So it is up to the DFL officers in each Republican local district to dig up as much dirt as exists on every Republican legislator to see if anything can stick. Then lay charges and try to convict, then petition – with a conviction the Court must approve. Then with everything out in the open, the chance for a DFL winner is pretty good. It is to be noted that some Republican legislators through their occupation can be in contact with vulnerable persons – we keep reading in the papers that this luminary or that luminary just got caught doing whatever. What makes us think a Republican legislator is immune?

  6. Submitted by David LaPorte on 07/12/2011 - 11:57 am.

    Walker kept his agenda of gutting the unions a secret during the election since he wouldn’t have been elected if he’d been open about it. He rolled it out after he was elected.

    Now the senators who supported this secret agenda are being recalled. Republicans are trying to muddy the waters by running fake Democrats in the primary. If any of the bogus Democrats win, it’ll be because Republicans have crossed over and voted in the Democratic primary.

    Wisconsin is giving Chicago a run for their money as a center for dirty politics.

  7. Submitted by will lynott on 07/12/2011 - 12:05 pm.

    #4, count me as one who is not surprised that you approve of an ethically challenged (being as charitable as I can) political strategy.

    BTW, the word “Democrat” is a noun, not an adjective. Do you know the difference between those grammatical terms? If not, I can help with that, since learned them well in elementary school. Just ask. No need to thank me.

    In the modern era, the use of the term as a studied insult was brought forward by Gingrich and others of his ilk. Not to advance the fortunes of the nation, just to insult and demean the opposition. It was third rate political hackery then, and it’s third rate political hackery now.

  8. Submitted by Michael Norman on 07/12/2011 - 12:14 pm.

    Doug, The group Citizens for a Strong America apparently operates out of UPS mailbox with funding that’s been linked to the Koch brothers. See:

  9. Submitted by jody rooney on 07/12/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    Just a question but why have we not started recall petitions here in Minnesota?

  10. Submitted by Jim Camery on 07/12/2011 - 01:47 pm.

    @#5, WI has two levels; recall, which means we had to get 15,700 signatures (which is 25% of the votes cast in Harsdorf’s district in the last gov race) in 60 days; and impeachment, which is a judicial action. Its sort of a malfeasance vs criminal distinction.

    We got to 22,300 sigs in about 5 weeks.

    Jim Camery; Chair, Pierce Dems

  11. Submitted by Matthew Levitt on 07/12/2011 - 02:09 pm.

    To #9. You just answered your own question. #5 technically laid it out but who is this mythical “we” you’re hoping to do the work? Mn Democrats are in the current position because of inactivism more than anything else.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/12/2011 - 03:04 pm.

    Why is it “extreme” for Democrats to be furious at the harm that Wisconsin’s governor and his Republican supporters have done to democracy in that state with their anti-worker, anti-government ultra-far right agenda?

    Won’t we ALL be furious if the Right succeeds in its attempted destruction of any part of the federal government that benefits ordinary people instead of the wealthy and large corporations?

    The struggle in the states and in Washington are pieces of the same ugly pie. A Rovian-Norquistian pie in a Pledge-shaped crust.

  13. Submitted by Linda Zarrett on 07/12/2011 - 03:38 pm.

    Doesn’t that sort of prove that REpublicans believe that the average voter doesn’t pay attention–just issues a knee jerk vote response to the moment? Seriously?!?!? So little confidence in the platform that dishonesty with the public is the only way to win?

  14. Submitted by Eric Larson on 07/12/2011 - 05:30 pm.

    Doug wrote a good article today. I would hope my partisan lefty friends would read the part about the Dem’s using the recall laws like they have never been used before(fact). So original sin lies with the WI-Dems. For those who say that doing away of collective bargaining rights for govt workers is a sin, you are wrong. One of the basic rules of a democracy is that no current legislature can pass a law that can’t be repealed by a future legislature. The current legislature saw the wisdom of correcting a previous error. Then did so. I hope some of the brave interlopers win.

  15. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/12/2011 - 06:44 pm.

    Look, there is a quite reasonable and responsible explanation. Republicans were very, very upset at the extra expense of the recall elections. To show how much the waste of money bothered them, they absolutely had to add another round of wasteful elections. Total integrity.

  16. Submitted by will lynott on 07/12/2011 - 07:19 pm.

    Well, #13, it’s working, isn’t it? What have you done lately to fight back?

  17. Submitted by will lynott on 07/12/2011 - 08:01 pm.

    Shelley is the cutest. She’ll win.

  18. Submitted by will lynott on 07/12/2011 - 08:37 pm.

    “One of the basic rules of a democracy is that no current legislature can pass a law that can’t be repealed by a future legislature.”

    Keep that one in mind, #14.

    And BTW, your approval and best wishes for a bunch of ethically challenged wingnuts says a lot about you. You’d be screaming bloody murder if the Ds were doing that. You know it, I know it, and so does everybody else.

  19. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/12/2011 - 11:19 pm.

    Well, Michael, all the integrity challenged fake democrats lost.

  20. Submitted by will lynott on 07/13/2011 - 08:17 am.

    All the signs so far point to Wisconsin having a lesson to teach to those who lie, cheat, and steal. Good on ya, mates!

  21. Submitted by Dale Hoogeveen on 07/13/2011 - 02:19 pm.

    Interestingly none of the challenged Republicans massed 50% plus 1 of the vote cast or the primary would have been the end of it in any such case. The same will hold true in the recalls of the three Democrats. Should any of them tally 50% plus 1 in the initial round of balloting that incumbent will have defeated his or her recall right then and there.

    For the Republicans in what supposedly should have been safe districts, that is a real bad sign. All of the Republicans show vulnerable for the second round of balloting. If any of the Democrats triumph in their first round, the signals for the Republicans get even worse.

    Realistically, in safe districts there should be no second round no matter how many challengers on the other side. My rough estimate at this point is that all of the Democrats will hold their seats and as many as four or five of the Republicans will get thrown out of office. If it turns out that way or even just close, then I would guess that Walker only has about a 40% chance at best of beating his own recall next year.

    The Republicans better have their hands deep in the Kochy jar very soon.

    Here in Minnesota the recall process is much more strict. There needs to be an actual ruling that any recall is proceeding for a very small number of specific infractions, before recall petitions can even be circulated. Public outrage by itself simply isn’t enough to start the process like it was in Wisconsin.

  22. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 07/13/2011 - 04:04 pm.

    All 6 real dems won handily. Polls show that at least 3 and probably 5 or all 6 of the republicans are going to lose the recall next month. Keep a keen eye on what is happening in Wisconsin Minnesota Republicans, this is your fate in 16 months.

  23. Submitted by helen park on 07/15/2011 - 02:55 am.

    I’m not really into politics but I guess the election recall in Wisconsin is just right since whenever a certain election seemed to have lots of discrepancies and unreliable results came out, we can then say that it’s not a transparent and fair election .Just like what I’ve read wherein party supported prospects were pitted against phony Democratic prospects in a Wisconsin primary political election last Tuesday. All half a dozen real Democrats prevailed in the race. The victors will go on to challenge incumbent Republican prospects in an August recall election. I read this here: All six Democrats win over fake candidates in Wisconsin election

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