Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Recall Returns to Town: A Primer on the Two Democratic Recalls in Wisconsin

After the seemingly inconclusive results of last week's six races, where both sides got to claim victory and at the same time feel bad for themselves, the two remaining Democratic recalls feel anticlimactic. The Senate cannot flip based on the results, and only one of the races appears to be competitive (though the polls are all over the place).

However, there are a few new facts to keep in mind (here's a link to the previous primer):

Will Holperin prove to be the ultimate recall survivor?
Democratic State Senator Jim Holperin is the first state legislator to face two recalls during his state legislative career. (Others have faced multiple recalls, but never as a state legislator). Holperin might be the first two-time winner, but here is (as far as I know) the only two-time recall loser.

Wisconsin voters, come out and play
Last week's recalls saw very high turnout for a recall. However, others (like me) were somewhat disappointed by the turnout. It's all a matter of expectation. Generally, recalls have lower voter turnout than a regular election (in 1994, the three California Assembly recalls saw 20 to 25% turnout, with similar numbers in Michigan in 1983).

By that standard, last week was amazing. However, the Gray Davis recall saw a much higher turnout than his 2002 reelection race. Since the Wisconsin races garnered so much attention and had so much money poured into it, there was a thought that it would have very high turnout. In all but one of the seats, turnout did not exceed the 2010 vote for Governor in the district (the numbers are not directly comparable, as all of these seats were last up in the presidential year of 2008. The recall turnout was nowhere near the 2008 one). Mitigating that fact is that as a rule, gubernatorial votes are higher than a state Senate vote (as some voters invariably don't cast votes on the down ballot elections).

Of the six races, turnout was by far the lowest in the least competitive seat (34%). However, turnout in the second closest race (the Luther Olsen seat), was the second lowest (39%). So, a better pull by the Democrats perhaps could have won the day.

The big question for Tuesday is whether anticlimactic nature of the vote will keep voters at home. We shall see.

Will the Republicans regret their own goal against Senator David Hansen?
The hurdle facing most recalls is simply getting on the ballot. The Republicans took this to a new level in the ninth recall in Wisconsin, against Senator David Hansen. Their preferred candidate Representative John Nygren, failed to turn in enough signatures. Hansen triumphed easily. If the Republicans had been able to win the Hansen seat, they certainly could view the results as a success. At the least, it would have forced the Democrats to put in more time and efforts on defense.

Blowouts are the norm in a recall vote. In the past, the winner of recall elections generally triumph with over 60% of the vote. Hansen got over 66% of the vote. Of the other races, three were over 55% and two were very tight (51-49, 52-48). Here are a couple of examples of some recall election barnburners.

Will a Walker recall be dynamite for the Democrats?
The Democrats and the Labor Unions are still talking up the Governor Walker recall. If the Republicans win both or even one seat, that talk may be tampered down. But if the Democrats hold serve, we could be hearing more about the Walker recall in coming months. 

However, as this post and Roll Call article note, there are real dangers for the Democrats in trying to recall Walker. The practical hurdles themselves are large. Wisconsin has a strict signature gathering requirement. But the political ones are almost as great. If the recall does not fall out on Election Day 2012, the Democrats could be blamed for wasting government resources. Since Wisconsin is considered a swing state, the Democrats do not want to be faced with blame on wasting taxpayer money come November. A failed recall could be a politically dangerous proposition.

On the national level, we will be seeing a recall against Arizona Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce, as well as continued threats in Michigan. South Carolina is considering adopting the recall (as is NSW in Australia). Will the impact of Wisconsin have an effect on the adoptions?

In response to the recalls, one Wisconsin state Representative is proposing radically revamping the recall law, and making it a "judicial process" -- meaning that recalls cannot be about political disagreements, but rather must be based on malfeasance, corruption, etc. 

After California Senator E.E. Grant was recalled in 1914, they looked into changing the laws. Nothing happened there either.

Will Interest Groups be chastised or emboldened by the results of the Recall?
Another way of putting it is -- Do voters care if the recall is perceived to be instigated by a political party or by an interest group? Check here for some thought.

Did Wisconsin ruin a great stat?
I've long stated that once recalls get on the ballot, they are frequently successful. The Portland Oregonian insisted on some stats and that's when I figured out that there had been 20 recalls and 13 of the 20 resulted in the official being kicked out of office, (as have both of the governors and two other North Dakota offices). But Wisconsin changes that stat. If both Democrats hold on, it will be 15 out of 29. Oh well.


  1. You're missing that:

    If both Dems hold onto their seats today, the Dems will have won the majority of recalls: 5 of 9.

    If both Dems hold onto their seats today in their districts, and if Dems had won three last week (instead of two) in Republican districts, their one-vote majority in the state Senate would not have made much difference from the GOP's one-vote majority in the state Senate. Why? A one-vote majority is not enough for Dems to repeal Walker's agenda already law, as he has the veto, so doing so will take many years until there is a Dem majority in the legislature and a Dem governor (or until Dems had a huge majority in the legislature, but that won't happen in very purple Wisconsin).

    The aim of the recalls is to stop Walker, and the one-vote majority of the GOP -- with that being the moderate Repub, Dale Schultz, who voted against Walker -- effectively will stop the Walker agenda, anyway.

    Read up on Schultz, the former state Senate majority leader and now the most powerful man in Wisconsin politics (a local blog greeted him last week with "Welcome, Governor Schultz") -- and the guy who went public in the state's major paper just before last week's recalls to reveal his disgust with how Walker treated him, Walker's "dirty tricks," etc.

    In sum, the Dems stand to win the recalls in several ways, none of them good for Walker. He woke up last week to find a changed state, as evidenced by his immediate media tour to beg for "bipartisanship" and "cooperation." Uh huh.

  2. I keep seeing this fantasy about Shulz flipping.
    You gotta be kidding me.
    Schulz won in a Conservative District that will be even MORE Conservative in 2011.
    IF Schulz flips, he will be recalled. Think not? we'll see, IF it happens.
    And if even one Fleebagger loses today, Schulz will NOT flip. He doesn't want to be in the MINORITY Party!
    Then, if he gets a recall election, he will lose as the Conservative majority in his District will be HIGHLY P.O.'d.
    You don't win as a Republican, then flip. Ask FORMER Senator Specter.