Monday, May 7, 2012

Primary Numbers: A Guide to Wisconsin's Recall primaries

The first big test of the Wisconsin is the primary tomorrow. Outside of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, we probably could easily predict every result. Still, let's look at some of the new issues that have cropped up about the primary, and what it means. For a full look at the recall itself, you can check out this earlier blog post. Also, if you are interested in the history of Wisconsin's adoption of the recall, see here.

The Fake/Placeholder candidates:

In all six races, the Republicans have put forward a "fake" Democrat or (as they prefer to call them) a placeholder. I find both of these term incorrect. The biggest problem with the "fake" appellation is that it implies the fake candidate is suppose to win, or even garner enough votes to embarrass the Democratic nominee. This is clearly not the case.

Wisconsin's recall law is unusual. If there is two candidates running for the same party nomination, they hold primary, and push off the general recall vote one month. But if there is only one candidate, then the recall is held on what would have been the primary day. The problem for the Republicans is that there are six different elections. Therefore, the party had to put up candidates to delay some of the recalls, so they all take place on the same day (June 5).

If some of the recalls were held on the same day as the primary, the Democrats would have had a big advantage in those race. The Democrats were definitely holding a primary for the Governor position -- their voters were certain to turn out. Republicans might not have come out to the same degree for a state Senate or Lieutenant Governor race. By delaying it, the Republicans are ensuring they can concentrate all of their fire on June 5.

I find "placeholder" an inaccurate term as well. It implies that there is a place that had to be held. The Republicans are choosing to delay those recalls. I don't have a good term to use.

Primary Problems:

Wisconsin's use of a primary in a recall setting is very unusual. It appears to be the only state to use a primary for recalls. While the use of the primary may be different, it should be understood that there is a wide variety in recall laws.

The result of the primary makes the recall even more partisan than in other states and jurisdictions, and unquestionably drives up the price of the recall. Wisconsin's recall is otherwise a simpler, and cheaper process than other states -- it is essentially a one-step revote.

Arizona's legislature has passed a constitutional amendment to change their system to include a primary (it still must be voted on by voters). This is because former Arizona Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce lost in a recall vote last year to a fellow Republican, Jerry Lewis. The district's demographics suggest that if it was a primary, Pearce would have beaten Lewis, and he would probably have won if Lewis (or someone else) had run as a Democrat).

Rematch Heaven

The primary is a rematch of an old race -- Both Barrett and Falk lost the Democratic primary in 2002 (to Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle). If Barrett wins, we would have another rematch on our hands -- Barrett was the losing Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2010 to Governor Scott Walker. As I've mentioned before, most recalls are not reruns. Of the 32 state legislative recalls, only two were rematches. There is a strong tactical reason to avoid rematches -- the challenger can be branded as a "sore loser" who is trying to reverse a legitimate election.

However, rematches do appear to be becoming more common. One of the Senatorial recalls is a rematch (Lehman v. Wanggaard). Additionally, the Sheboygan mayoral recall from earlier this year featured a rematch.

The Buyin' Power of the Proletariat's Gone Done

The unions, who can be credited with getting the recalls on the ballot, seem to be backing Kathleen Falk. Barrett has been s union opponent on a number of fronts. However, he is leading in the polls going into the vote. How would a Falk win change Walker's defense?

Walker would presumably have a better chance of tying Falk to the unions, and claiming that he is facing an interest group recall (not that he won't try the same tactic with Barrett, just that it may work better with Falk). In the past, voters have been less than keen on what I would define as interest group recalls. The don't have the same problem with partisan recalls. See here for some past examples of this.

My argument is that, by necessity, interest groups are representing a smaller group of constituents than one of the two major political parties. There are plenty of voters in both parties that dislike a specific interest group, even if they are tied into their own party’s base, and these voters may be especially turned off by the belief that an interest group is flexing its muscle in such a direct manner.

A couple of other basic facts that I might as well repeat here:

Gunning for the Governor: A brief history
As has been well documented, the Walker recall would be only the third recall of a US Governor to get on the ballot in US history. The first was in 1921, when North Dakota's Lynn Frazier (Non-Partisan League) was ousted. The second was against California Governor Gray Davis (Democrat) in 2003. Additionally, a recall was approved against Arizona Governor Evan Meacham (Republican) in 1988, but Meacham was impeached and removed by the legislature on the day the signatures were verified.

2nd in Commands:
Rebecca Kleefisch is the first Lieutenant Governor in the nation to face a recall vote. It appears she will be only the third non-governor to face a recall vote on the state level (the other two were both in North Dakota in 1921).

There has been much discussion about the law of recalling a LG -- some argued that the LG would be automatically included in a recall of the Governor. The Democrats did not play around with lawsuits, and instead got the signatures.

Flipping the Legislature

If just one of the Republican state Senators lose their seat, the chamber (which is currently tied) will flip to Democrat. There have been five recalls (or six or seven if you want to count California in 1995 multiple times, which we won't) that could have switched the legislature (Washington 1981, Michigan 1983, California 1995, Wisconsin 1996, Wisconsin 2011). All  but the Washington one (and the Wisconsin one last year) succeeded.

You have selected Regicide
Scott Fitzgerald is the fourth state legislative leader to face a recall. The first was California President Pro Tempore David Roberti in 1994. The second was Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon in 2008. The third was Arizona Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce, who was kicked out of office on November 8, 2011.

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