MADISON, Wis. - After a historic signature collection drive mounted by unions and their allies, three of the GOP senators who rammed through Gov. Scott Walker's bill to kill collective bargaining rights for state workers will definitely face recall votes July 12.
One of the boldest displays of political independence in the history of the U.S. labor movement resulted in the non-partisan Government Accountability Board yesterday issuing an order for recall elections for Republican state Sens. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and Luther Olsen of Ripon.
The three are part of a group of six Republican lawmakers that unions mobilized to recall after they voted for a law that takes away public employees' rights to bargain collectively. The battle over the law triggered mass sit-ins at the state Capitol here that inspired similar protests across the nation.
The petitions to recall the other three Republican senators will be reviewed by the board on May 31. The three are state Sens. Alberta Darling of River Hills, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Robert Cowles of Green Bay.
Democrats need to win three seats to take control of the Senate.
The petition drive is seen as impressive considering the large number of valid signatures that had to be collected. Based on the size of the electorate in the last gubernatorial elections, approximately 15,000 signatures were needed in each of the districts from which a senator was to be recalled. In each of the six districts more than 21,000 signatures were gathered.
The decision by the Government Accountability Board to order the recall elections was unanimous.
While lawyers for the Republican senators identified some signatures that they said should not be counted they could not find nearly enough to prevent certification of the recall.
The state board rejected Republican arguments that all the signatures should be invalidated because some of the initial paperwork filed for the recall was not filed properly.
Democrats appear to have the candidates they need to run against the Republicans. Rep. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) has announced she will run against Kapanke; Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) has said he will run against Olsen; and former Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Jessica King has said she will run against Hopper. King narrowly lost to Hopper in 2008.
Determined to maintain their grip on the state government despite the wave of popular sentiment against them, Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate struck another blow to democracy last week.
They passed a so-called Voter ID bill that the nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau says would disenfranchise 20 percent of the state's voters, especially in rural areas.
Republicans are pushing similar bills to take away voting rights in 35 other states.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University says that 11 percent of voters nationwide do not have official IDs that would meet the requirements of the new proposed state laws.
In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law a Wisconsin-style voter ID bill that is expected to take away voting rights from 178,000 people, especially minorities. The bill eliminates student ID as a valid form of voter identification.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, last week signed an "election reform" law that eliminates the long-standing practice of allowing voters to change their registration or names at the polling place. The law makes it more difficult for groups to run voter registration drives and shortens the number of days for early voting.
Voter suppression laws are making their way through state legislative bodies in North Carolina and Minnesota but Democratic governors in those states are expected to veto the bills.