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August 9, 2011

Wisconsin recall elections could tip state Senate balance

Six months after protests and counter-protests briefly made Madison the epicenter of American politics, Tuesday is a day of reckoning for six Republican state senators in Wisconsin.

The legislators represent the first targets of Democrats outraged by Gov. Scott Walker’s push to curtail the collective bargaining rights of most state employees. Democrats need to win at least three of the six races in order to take control of the narrowly divided chamber. If they do, Democrats will almost certainly claim momentum toward their budding efforts to recall Walker.

But even if Democrats do wrestle control of the state Senate away, they could just as easily lose the chamber right back a week later, when two more Democratic state senators face their own recalls, months after they fled the state in an attempt to block Walker’s legislative push.

“We’re in uncharted waters here,” said Bill McCoshen, a Republican lobbyist and former Tommy Thompson strategist. “We’ve never had more than one person recalled in the history of the state, and now we’ve got six races going on the same day. It’s extraordinary.”

Rocking the boat has been millions of dollars in TV spending that is typical of federal races in the national spotlight, but unheard of for a state-level legislative contest. Political media trackers estimate more than $30 million has been spent on the recalls, and ad buy tracking data obtained by POLITICO indicates that the spending has been roughly divided evenly between Democratic- and Republican-leaning groups and their candidates.

“It’s an unprecedented amount of money that’s being spent here,” McCoshen said.

In addition to more than $4 million spent by the candidates themselves, more than 10 outside groups have showered the local airwaves with TV money, including the conservative Club for Growth, Democratic-leaning We Are Wisconsin, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

“There’s never been a set of state legislative contests that have generated the national interest this has,” said prominent Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who is working for the state Senate Democrats. “Wisconsin’s really been a focal point for looking at and reacting to the extremism of this new Republican Party that’s been taken over by the far right.”

Each side is hoping its turnout operation will carry it over the top.

“We’re bracing for massive turnout,” GOP state Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald told POLITICO. “Some clerks are estimating presidential-level turnout, which is amazing.”

Strategists on both sides caution that polling can only be so precise for a rare set of recall elections in which voter turnout is almost impossible to predict.

“Turnout is the whole deal,” Mellman said. “No one knows for certain and nobody knows whether these polls are remotely accurate because you’ve never had six people up for election in the middle of August in the history of the state. So it will all come down to turnout. whichever side does a better job of identifying, motivating, and getting its voters out to the polls will win.”

“Many people have stopped paying attention to the fliers and the ads on TV. It’s too much,” said state Rep. Sandy Pasch, the Democratic challenger taking on Darling.

And if Democrats win the chamber Tuesday, both sides are bracing for an astronomical spending binge ahead of next Tuesday, when Democratic state Sens. Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch face their own recalls.

“We’ve already seen $30 million here. If the chamber flips on Tuesday, we could see another $4 million just spent in that next week. “McCoshen said. “Anyone who says they know what will happen is simply not telling the truth, because there’s just no precedent for this.”

But despite the volatility of this new political ground, there is surprisingly widespread agreement among operatives on both sides about the lay of the land just hours before polls open:

— La Crosse state Sen. Dan Kapanke is the Republican most likely heading toward defeat. His Democratic challenger, state Rep. Jennifer Shilling, holds healthy leads in both public and private polls. Kapanke represents an increasingly blue district in southwest Wisconsin, lost a congressional bid last fall and has long been pegged as the most vulnerable recall target.

— State Sens. Robert Cowles and Sheila Harsdorf are the Republicans most likely to survive. Cowles represents a GOP-friendly Green Bay district that went handily for state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in the April election that turned into a warm-up for both parties’ political machines. Harsdorf, of the Milwaukee-area River Falls village, benefited from significant early spending by the Club for Growth, which quickly defined Democratic challenger Shelly Moore as a hardcore union activist.

— State Sens. Alberta Darling, Luther Olsen and Randy Hopper occupy the swing seats that will ultimately decide which party controls the chamber. Hopper was considered a goner when reports surfaced that he cheated on his wife with a staffer, but he has since made up some ground in the GOP-leaning district. Darling’s suburban Milwaukee 8th District, where the candidates and outside groups have broken spending records, and Olsen’s 14th District, where the incumbent has never drawn a serious challenge, are the fiercest battlegrounds. “This thing will be won or lost in 8 or 14,” RNC political director Rick Wiley told POLITICO.

August 8, 2011

Democrats ready to wage state Senate recall war in Wisconsin

After months of partisan turmoil solved not all that much in Washington, the political world will turn its attention to Wisconsin this week in search of some clarity.

The Badger State will hold six recall elections for state senators on Tuesday, the final battle of a war between Gov. Scott Walker (R) and organized labor that began months ago. Walker’s decision to strip public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining right set off a national firestorm — with the labor movement promising retribution for legislators who voted in favor of the proposal.

Democrats hope Tuesday will provide that retribution as they seek to retake control of the state Senate and give the party a bit of a boost nationally.

“I think it’s a chance to disrupt the overall news arc, which is horrific particularly for [President] Obama,” said Democratic pollster Paul Maslin, who is based in Madison, Wis.

Democrats have targeted six Republican state senators for recall, while two of their own face recall fights. Republicans have a 19-14 majority in the chamber, so to seize control, Democrats must win three GOP-held seats and lose none of their own.

Most analysts consider Sen. Dan Kapanke (R) the most endangered, because his district gave Obama more than 60 percent of the vote in 2008. Many Democrats are counting that seat as a pickup. Sen. Randy Hopper (R) also faces a tough race in a Democratic-leaning district. Sens. Luther Olsen and Alberta Darling, both Republicans, are vulnerable, too, and their races are likely to decide whether Democrats get to the majority on Tuesday.

Observers on both sides acknowledge the possibility that Democrats could win the majority by a seat only to lose it again on Aug. 16, when Sen. Jim Holperin — one of the two Democrats targeted by Republicans — faces his recall election.

The practical importance of controlling the state Senate is far outweighed by the symbolic message-sending that both parties hope to do in the balloting.

Tens of millions of dollars have poured into the state — some experts estimate that more than $30 million has been spent — as every interest group on either side of the aisle is trying to make its voice heard before the vote.

Democrats — and especially organized labor groups — have cast the Wisconsin recall elections as a sign that they retain significant political power and are more than willing to fight when they think Republicans have overreached.

“Wisconsin is something of a referendum on the uncompromising extremism of the Republicans and the tea party,” said pollster Mark Mellman, who is involved in Democratic efforts in the state. “This is the first time the GOP will find out whether there is an electoral price to pay for their adamant refusal to compromise on their extreme agenda.”

Democrats hope to use a state Senate takeover to build momentum for an effort to recall the governor. Walker, who was elected last year, must serve for one year before he is eligible to be recalled.

Republicans, who acknowledge they are playing defense in Wisconsin, consider anything short of losing the state Senate majority a victory — and a sign that national Democratic groups are out of touch with average voters.

Even if they do come up short, Republican State Leadership Committee President Chris Jankowski, who is monitoring the Wisconsin races, insists that the impact would be isolated.

“On a state level across the country, there will be little effect at this point,” he said. “Most states are done or almost done with their budgets. The 2011 state legislative elections look a lot like the 2010 elections so far: net gains [for Republicans] in chambers picked up and net gains in seats.”

Although the spin game about “what it all means” is well underway, strategists for both parties acknowledge that they are in uncharted water when it comes to who will vote — given the unprecedented nature of the elections and the fact that they come in the middle of many people’s summer vacations.

“Anyone who makes any prediction on Tuesday’s result with extreme confidence needs to be sat down and have the concept of knowns and unknowns explained to them,” said Kelly Steele, spokesman for We Are Wisconsin, a Democratic-aligned group.

August 4, 2011

Debate ‘right to work’

The issue that drove Democratic House members from the Indiana Statehouse to Urbana, Ill., for a five-week walkout and sparked protests involving hundreds of union workers is back on the table, this time before an interim study committee. Now, apart from the heated rhetoric of a legislative session, is when Hoosiers should decide whether a “right to work” bill will add jobs or drive down wages.

The walkout served to remove Senate Bill 395 from the ambitious Republican agenda, and lawmakers assigned discussion of the issue to the Interim Study Committee on Employment Issues. Gov. Mitch Daniels feared the debate would derail other priorities before the General Assembly.

“I wasn’t in favor of its consideration in this last session,” he said last week, “because we hadn’t had this kind of an open process and airing of all the issues. So let’s have that hearing and then we’ll have something more definitive to say.”

But Mitch Roob, Daniels’ secretary of commerce, has no reservations about making Indiana a right-to-work state. He told the study committee last week that as many as a third of all businesses considering relocation bypass the state because it doesn’t make union membership and dues optional.

“The states that have ‘right to work’ sell that against us, just as we sell our AAA credit rating, our balanced budget and our low taxes against a state like Illinois,” Roob said.

Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist, once again argued the case for the right-to-work proponents, claiming higher rates of employment, productivity and personal income growth. But Mary Wolfson, director of the Higgins Labor Studies Program at the University of Notre Dame and former Federal Reserve economist, argued that states that have passed right-to-work laws have not seen meaningful increases in the growth of income and that median household income is significantly lower in right-to-work states than it is in others.

The Times of Northwest Indiana compared unemployment rates of right-to-work states to Indiana’s and found that 10 out of the 22 states had higher jobless rates, including Nevada, with an unemployment rate of 12.4 percent compared to Indiana’s 8.3 percent rate. Of the 12 with lower rates, five are mineral-rich states that have been largely immune to the economic downturn.

And proponents can’t explain why non-union companies such as Honda or Toyota currently have plants in Indiana if right-to-work status is a deal-breaker. Honda has 1,000 Indiana workers in Greensburg, with plans to double that number with the addition of a second shift. Toyota employs about 4,100 at its Princeton plant.

The committee did not hear testimony from the public at its meeting last week, but is expected to do so later. Hoosiers need to consider the repercussions of a right to work law and let lawmakers know what they think. The 2012 session will be too late.

August 3, 2011

We Are Wisconsin reports more than $1 million in donations last week

MADISON, Wisconsin: The deadline for filing Pre-Election campaign finance reports with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board for the August 9 elections is today. A number of reports have already been posted to the state’s Campaign Finance Information website. We will have coverage of these reports later in the week as they become available.

Additionally, special reports on late contributions have been showing up. We Are Wisconsin reported raising $1,366,428.47 in the past week. This includes $500,000 from AFSCME, and $200,000 each from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. The America Votes Action Fund reported] receiving $50,000 from America’s Families First Action Fund.

 

Voting confusion

Although voters officially go to the polls on August 9, in-person and mail-in absentee votes in the six senate districts with recalls on August 9 continue to flow in. Absentee voting began on July 25 and will continue through Friday at 5 p.m. CST. During the first two days, clerks in the 10th district reported between 26 – 48 in-person voters, while River Falls had 157 mail-in votes.[1] Menomonee Falls Village Clerk Janice Moyer said that about 570 people had voted as of last Friday afternoon, a total which she says is similar to the state Supreme Court election in April.[2]

Meanwhile, organizations on both sides have been accused of misleading voters with incorrect election dates. Flyers being circulated by Americans for Prosperity in the 2nd and 10th districts instruct voters to return ballots “before Aug. 11,” two days after the recall.[3] Voters in the 32nd district reported receiving robocalls from the Democratic National Committee urging them to vote on August 16. The DNC said they stopped the calls on Saturday after they were alerted to the incorrect date.[4] Clerks in some areas have also reported voter confusion due to the large number of political mailings regarding absentee ballots.[5]

 

Verified complaint against Pasch

The state Republican Party filed a verified complaint with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board today against Sandy Pasch (D), asking for an investigation into possible illegal collusion between Pasch’s campaign and Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a left-leaning organization “committed to achieving social, economic, and environmental justice.”[6]

Pasch is a member of the board of directors of Citizen Action, while her campaign treasurer Jackie Boynton also serves as treasurer for the organization.[7]

In a press release, Stephan Thompson, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said, “In recent weeks, Citizen Action has taken an unusual interest in attacking Alberta Darling, with nearly identical messaging as the Pasch campaign. We feel that it is only prudent to ensure that these circumstances are uncanny coincidences, not the result of illegal activity on the part of the Pasch campaign.”[8]

Andrew Davis, campaign manager for Alberta Darling stated, “As we have seen throughout the campaign from Sandy Pasch, she has little regard for right and wrong. Coordinating with third party groups is a very serious matter and the Darling campaign hopes that the Government Accountability Board looks into this immediately.”[9]

Pasch campaign spokeswoman Gillian Morris said there was no coordination, calling the complaint “a laughable attempt to attack her because they’re running scared and they’re seeing the writing on the wall.” Robert Kraig, executive director for Citizen Action said the actions were completely unfounded.[10]

 

Debates

  • Sen. Robert Cowles (R) and challenger Nancy Nusbaum (D) have yet to debate, but continue to argue over whose fault that is. Last week Nusbaum criticized Cowles for not responding to debate requests, including a forum being held today. Cowles said he never received information on the debate, and that Nusbaum purposely accepted it for today, when he is required to be in the Senate for a special session. Cowles said, “Is there anything honest about this campaign? It’s one crazy attack that’s incorrect after another.”[11]
  • Sen. Randy Hopper (R) and Jessica King (D) both appeared on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” over the weekend, but did not meet face to face as King declined to appear alongside her opponent. Hopper defended his actions on collective bargaining, saying, “I think once people understand the reason for why we did what we did, they’d support it … the sky hasn’t fallen.”[12] King said a better way to address the budget deficit would be through a reorganization of state government.
  • Rep. Sandy Pasch (D) appeared at the Milwaukee Press Club today to answer questions from members of the press and the audience, while her opponent, Sen. Alberta Darling (R), will appear there tomorrow.[13] The Press Club attempted to have the candidates meet face to face but Darling declined.[14]
August 2, 2011

AFP Wisconsin ballots have late return date

Americans for Prosperity is sending absentee ballots to Democrats in at least two Wisconsin state Senate recall districts with instructions to return the paperwork after the election date.

The fliers, obtained by POLITICO, ask solidly Democratic voters to return ballots for the Aug. 9 election to the city clerk “before Aug. 11.”

A Democrat on the ground in Wisconsin said the fliers were discovered to be hitting doors in District 2 and District 10 over the weekend.

“These are people who are our 1’s in the voterfile who we already knew.  They ain’t AFP members, that’s for damn sure,” the source said.

One flier was discovered in Hudson, Wisc. where Democrat Shelly Moore is attempting to upend GOP State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf in District 10; the other was found in Kaukauna, where Democrat Nancy Nusbaum is challenging Sen. Robert Cowles in District 2.

“If they’re targeting for Aug. 16, they’re hundreds and hundreds of miles off,” said the Democratic activist who has been on the ground in Madison for months.  “This has nothing to do with either Democratic incumbent up on August 16th.”

The absentee trickery comes just as AFP has purchased $150,000 in ad time in Green Bay, Milwaukee and Madison to boost GOP candidates.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misreported that a flier was found in Milwaukee. It was actually discovered in Kaukauna.

July 27, 2011

Indiana UFCW Members Gear Up to Fight Right-to-Work

The Indiana Legislature is once again considering a controversial right-to-work bill. In a hearing held today, a joint Senate-House Committee examined the right-to-work bill and UFCW members from across Indiana were there to tell their elected officials that the bill is bad for Hoosiers and bad for working families.

“Don’t sell Hoosiers short. Let’s invest in education and infrastructure to create new jobs,” said Local 700 member and grocery worker Ashley McDonald of Brazil, Indiana. “Lowering our standard of living with a right-to-work law won’t bring business or jobs to Indiana.”

Members from UFCW Locals 700, 75, 881, and 227 and the RWDSU attended the hearing, then took part in a training on lobbying their legislators and talking to their neighbors about right-to-work.

July 27, 2011

Indiana lawmakers hold hearing on right-to-work

A joint Senate-House committee was holding a hearing this morning on right-to-work, the controversial issue that helped trigger a five-week walk-out by House Democrats in the last legislative session.

The hearing is the first of what is expected to be at least two by the summer study committee, and a precursor to legislation expected to be heard in the next session, which begins in January.

Gov. Mitch Daniels had opposed the legislature getting into the issue last session, saying it had not been debated by voters in the 2010 election.

But the first witness at today’s hearing in the Senate chambers may show that he’s open to having the issue voted upon in the 2012 session: Mitch Roob, his secretary of commerce.

Roob, who also is head of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., said Indiana does “lose opportunities” because it does not have this provision, which blocks companies and unions from negotiating contracts that require non-members to pay fees for representation.

States that do not have this provision in law, he said, are perceived as being less friendly to business, “rightly or wrongly.” If the state adopts this law, he said, it will give Indiana another tool in its arsenal as it competes with other states for businesses. And he noted that the fastest growing states are those with “right to work” laws on their books.

Labor unions, who call this issue the “right to work for less,” also will testify today, arguing that states with this law have lower incomes.

Joe Chorpenning, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700, noted that Nevada is a right-to-work state but “has the highest unemployment in the country.”

July 12, 2011

Wisconsin Voters Head to Polls Today for Recall Primaries

Wisconsin voters are voting for something important today. They’re voting in primaries for Democratic opponents to face the the six Republican Senators who helped ram through Governor Scott Walker’s bill to eliminate collective bargaining back in March. But it just wouldn’t be a Wisconsin election without more dirty tricks from Republicans, right? So of course, working voters are facing a particularly dirty trick from Walker’s allies today.

As the AFL-CIO reports:

Today, Wisconsin working family voters are taking another step to take back their government from Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) radical, anti-family, anti-community, pro-Koch Brothers agenda. And they have to defeat a Republican dirty trick to do it…these primary elections have been marred by Walker supporters who recruited fake candidates to run in the elections in an attempt to sow confusion among voters. The winners of today’s elections will face the six Republicans in an Aug. 9 general election.

But workers are on the case. Union members, including many UFCW members, are out in force to knock on doors and educate folks about the primary candidates today. The vote today is an important first step in recalling the Walker Six. A gain of even just three seats would break Walker’s stranglehold on the Senate. So all eyes are on Wisconsin today–and if you’re a Wisconsinite, don’t forget to vote!

June 30, 2011

1,298,301 Ohioans Want to Repeal SB5

On June 29, 2011, UFCW members from all around Ohio joined a crowd of thousands in downtown Columbus to deliver 1,298,301 signatures to repeal SB 5 to the Ohio Secretary of State office. We Are Ohio volunteers collected more signatures than any other petition drive in Ohio history. The citizen-driven petition drive exceeded the 3% threshold and collected at least 6%, or double the amount required by Ohio law in all 88 counties.

UFCW Local 75 members stand with a firefighter supporter as they march to turn in over a million signatures for the repeal of SB5 in Ohio.

June 24, 2011

Sudden Rush

Sudden rush

June 22, 2011

The House rushed to approve a flawed photo ID requirement for Ohio voters. Now Republican senators are doing the same

In March, Republicans in charge of the Ohio House hustled to passage misguided legislation requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls. The expectation was, the state Senate would take a more deliberative approach, even put off action until the fall. Then, on Tuesday morning, Keith Faber, the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, delivered the big surprise: The photo ID proposal would be folded into a larger elections bill headed for a committee vote in the afternoon and a floor vote today.

Faber argued, essentially, the timing is right, the elections bill headed for passage. Of course, he and his colleagues have known about the long-in-the-works elections proposal for months. If anything, the photo ID bill offended so many because it did not receive the ample airing of the overhaul legislation.

Now, the Senate simply has incorporated the flawed language of the House bill, the requirement that voters present a driver’s license, passport or other government-issued identification card with a photograph. Sound fairly reasonable? Consider that many people with disabilities do not have such identification. One estimate holds that one-quarter of African-Americans and one-fifth of Ohioans over age 65 do not have a photo ID.

Remember, Republican lawmakers already addressed the identification requirement a few years ago, many voters now showing a photo ID at the polls, or a copy of a current utility bill, paycheck or other government document that contains the voter’s name and address. All of this was done in the name of preventing voter fraud, though the problem didn’t exist then — and it still does not.

Jon Husted, the secretary of state, has explained, reasonably, that he could support the photo ID requirement as long as voters have other options for proving their identity at the polls. He now has been stiffed by his fellow Republicans.

The thinking of the majority is curious. Republicans have fanned concern for the false problem of voter fraud, the party of less bureaucracy adding new hoops. In doing so, they have opened the way to real concerns, registered voters facing undue difficulties casting ballots, disenfranchisement, in a word.

Not surprisingly, many of the affected voters are more likely to side with Democratic candidates. The photo ID proposal fits into the pattern of Republican majorities in other states. More, it reflects subtler changes in the larger elections bill, broadening the field for voter error and disqualification, leaving ballots vulnerable to mistakes by poll workers, excessively narrowing the time for early voting.

Republicans carp about the sharp elbows of Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat and the previous secretary of state. Yet she sought a truly inclusive effort to repair the shortcomings in Ohio elections. Now that process has devolved, Republicans inviting the impression of a party in power looking to serve first its own agenda, not the larger interest of the state.