Tuesday, August 09, 2011

At Least 3 Republicans Retain Seats in Wisconsin Recall Votes

August 9, 2011

At Least 3 Republicans Retain Seats in Wisconsin Recall Votes

SAYNER, Wis. — At least two Republican state senators lost their jobs on Tuesday, as Wisconsin residents cast votes in six recall elections that grew out of the state’s battle this year over Republican-led cuts to collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Three other Republicans survived the recall efforts, but results were still being tallied late Tuesday in a final race, that of State Senator Alberta Darling, a powerful Republican leader in Madison, leaving partisan control of the State Senate, which was at stake in these races, uncertain. Republicans have held a 19-to-14 majority in the Senate; a gain of three seats by Democrats would shift control to them.

Two Republicans who lost their seats were among those who had, all along, been believed to be the most vulnerable. In La Crosse, a Democratic challenger, Jennifer Shilling, defeated Senator Dan Kapanke, according to preliminary results from The Associated Press. And in the Fond du Lac area, Senator Randy Hopper, a Republican whose marital troubles became a topic of discussion during the campaign, was defeated by Jessica King, a Democrat.

Other Republicans survived with relative ease.

In the Green Bay region, Senator Robert Cowles survived a challenge from Nancy Nusbaum, a Democrat. Senator Luther Olsen of Ripon beat State Representative Fred Clark, another Democrat. And in the northwestern part of the state, Senator Sheila Harsdorf held off Shelly Moore.

Even after full results are known, though, control of the State Senate may still be in question. Two Senate Democrats, who, along with the rest of the Democrats, opposed the collective bargaining cuts, face their own recall elections next week. A third Democrat survived a recall last month.

National labor groups and Democrats had worked for months and spent millions of dollars trying to unseat the Republican senators, who had supported Gov. Scott Walker, a fellow Republican, and his effort to limit collective bargaining rights. With help from national conservative groups, Republicans had pushed to maintain control in Madison, the capital, where Republican dominance this year in both legislative chambers has allowed Mr. Walker to easily press an agenda that has included budget cuts, requirements for identification to vote, a concealed weapons provision and the collective bargaining measure.

In a way, these recall elections grew out of a different election. Last November, in a pattern that played out in several states, Republicans swept into power in Wisconsin, taking over control of the governor’s seat, the State Assembly and the State Senate and pledging to make major changes.

In February, Mr. Walker proposed a “budget repair bill” that would cut benefits to state workers and significantly diminish future collective bargaining rights for most public employees. The point, Mr. Walker said at the time, was to solve the state’s budget deficit. But the move set off a wave of anger, and protesters called for the removal of Republican lawmakers who had supported the idea.

Supporters of Mr. Walker and the Republicans called for the removal of Democratic lawmakers who had fled the state for weeks as a procedural maneuver to delay a vote on the collective bargaining question. In March, Republicans used a procedural maneuver of their own to approve the measure without the Democrats.

The recall campaigns have been battering, time-consuming (tens of thousands of petition signatures have been collected), confusing (with four separate election dates) and expensive. By one estimate, outside groups and campaigns will have spent at least $35 million to remove senators, making some of the races the most expensive Wisconsin legislative campaigns in memory.

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