The recall election hangover blog, part 1

I went to the victory party of Sen. Luther Olsen (R–Ripon) Tuesday night. I have been to victory parties and losing parties, and victory parties are always more fun. (Although the feeling seemed more of relief, both in the 14th Senate District result and in the results of the six Republican Senate recalls.)

The first thought I had on driving home Tuesday was that there is no more forlorn sight than the campaign signs of a defeated candidate — the green, white or blue Fred Clark for Senate signs, or, in Fond du Lac an afternoon later, the red Randy Hopper signs.

I once editorialized that there should be a law that campaign signs must be removed immediately upon the polls closing Election Day at 8 p.m. But come to think of it. Sen.-elect Jessica King (D–Oshkosh) might as well keep hers up, because she will discover every day until Nov. 6, 2012, what the Clinton administration term “permanent campaign” means. The GOP will depict her as only concerned about Oshkosh, not Fond du Lac or any point in between, and certainly not those rural areas she claimed to champion.

And now for the best Tweet of Tuesday:

BREAKING: The 2 new WI Democratic legislators will be sworn in at the Rockford, Illinois Holiday Inn.

The political experts have been arguing since Tuesday night who won Tuesday night. (The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice, no friend of conservatives, has an interesting list of Tuesday’s winners.) My analogy (and you may hear this on Wisconsin Public Radio Friday at 8 a.m.) is that, if football team R, favored by five points over team D, won 17–16, who won the football game? Team R, of course.

The Democrats’ goal was to win control of the state Senate. Tuesday’s four Republican wins guarantees that Democrats failed, irrespective of the juvenile spin attempts of the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s Mike Tate and Graeme Zielinski, or left-wing bloggers. Of course, one can reasonably ask whether a one-vote majority that includes Sen. Dale Schultz (RINO–Richland Center) is in fact a majority, but the margin is still, shall we say, under review given the recalls of Sens. James Holperin (D–Conover) and Robert Wirch (D–Kenosha) Tuesday. (More on those races in this space Monday.)

Two interesting post-vote facts. First, according to National Review’s Christian Schneider, Republicans won 53 percent of the vote statewide on Tuesday. Second, according to WTMJ’s Charlie Sykes:

… the two senators who lost Tuesday, received substantially MORE votes when they were first elected to a 4-year term than their opponents received in the recall. In other words, the recall allowed a smaller group of voters to negate the choice a much larger number of voters who cast ballots in a general election. In the case of Dan Kapanke, for example, 33,192 Tuesday votes were able to negate the votes of 45,154 voters who elected Kapanke to his current term. Here are the numbers:

Randy Hopper.  In 2008 he got 41,852 votes.  In 2011 King got 28,188.  Difference of 13,664

Dan Kapanke.  In 2008 he got 45,154.  In 2011 Schilling got 33,192.  Difference of 11,962.

My prediction (which I unfortunately didn’t put online anywhere) was that Democrats would gain one net seat after Tuesday’s and Tuesday’s recall elections, and that can still happen. On the scale of most-likely-to-lose to least-likely-to-lose, I put Sens. Dan Kapanke (R–La Crosse), Alberta Darling (R–Menomonee Falls), Randy Hopper (R–Fond du Lac), Olsen, Robert Cowles (R–Green Bay) and Sheila Harsdorf (R–River Falls) in that order. A friend of mine predicted three losses — Kapanke and Hopper (R–Fond du Lac), and either Olsen or Darling — and got two of those right.

Another correspondent, who used to work for Republicans (and the names are changed to protect the guilty, along with the typos), fired this off at me:

Republicans will lose 4 seats, loss both races next week. They have had no plan or ground game for weeks. When only incumbents Darling and Kapanke out of 9 races have outraised their Democrat challenger it’s a terrible sign. Darling has ran a terrible two weeks of the race with lots of gaffes; Olsen doesn’t seem to care (Ex: he spent half a day in a DPI administrative hearing on school mascots just listening last Wednesday); Cowles seems to be angry that he is up for election and his tv spots seem very amateur; Harsdorf has ran a decent campaign with good spots and has defined her opponent; Kapanke has had good spots, good staff, turned around the La Crosee Tribune, raised a ton and will make this race closer than expected; Hopper has a final decent tv spot, but is left with unanswered personal baggage; Holperin has made his Republican candidate out to be a nut, she is behind in fundraising and she looks ill in her tv shots. Wirch is safe.

Grumpy Old Pundit (who is younger than me) called basically 1½ right, Harsdorf and Hopper, with next week still to be decided. (Ironic, isn’t it, that the one GOP senator who “outraised” his opponent lost.) He appeared to forget that the best campaign or candidate (however you define that) doesn’t always win. Moreover, he committed the politicological error (a made-up compound word from the oxymoronic concepts of “politics” and “logic”) of dissing a campaign because the campaign didn’t do things the way you think it should.

The race, to quote Packers announcer Wayne Larrivee (who I believe once described himself as a “Kennedy Democrat”), that was “your dagger!” was Darling’s win over Rep. Sandy Pasch (D–Whitefish Bay). When Tate describes the race as “the crown jewel” and then you drop the crown jewel, well, that’s $30 million of campaign spending that won’t be able to be used for the Obama 2012 campaign. (And by the way, Democrats: Do you suppose that at any point in the future you might attempt to act as though you have a little class in your public pronouncements? Or is that too much to ask?)

The race that was the utter waste of time was Olsen’s. Clark is the first Democrat he has ever faced. That’s right — in seven previous elections spanning 16 years on both the Assembly and Senate level, in good Republican (1994) and Democratic (1996, 2008) years, Luther Olsen had no Democratic opponent. The brains at Democratic Party headquarters must have been passing the dutchie on the left hand side when they thought they could knock off Olsen. (My prediction, by the way: Olsen will have no Democratic opponent in 2012.)

And if you’re going to run against a Republican who has never needed to exert himself to defeat a Democrat, was Clark really the best Democrats could do? (For one thing, next time, Fred, answer my questions!) The pro-Olsen ad that said that “Character is how we act when we think people aren’t paying attention” was a pretty devastating indictment of someone who can’t keep his mouth shut when faced with a contrary opinion from a constituent (Clark had run for office before, right?) and is tardy in his most basic personal responsibilities.

Character was clearly the reason Hopper lost. (Whether or not Democrats were hypocrites.) Which is too bad, because Hopper was one of the few senators who focused like a laser on the state’s business climate dating back to his first days in the state Senate. Hopper also expended significant political capital in getting an unpopular but necessary deal done to keep Mercury Marine manufacturing in Fond du Lac. That was perhaps preferable to the alternative of seeing 11,000 (direct and indirect) jobs leave, but Hopper apparently got no political gain from it.

After shooting the live Ripon Channel Report Tuesday night, the executive producer and I were discussing how unprecedented the mass recalls were. I thought that such recalls had probably happened before, but certainly not in Wisconsin. And then a mention Wednesday turned on a light bulb — the 2002 and 2003 recalls of seven Milwaukee County supervisors, including the board chair, in the wake of the Milwaukee County pension scandal.

There is, however, a huge difference between the Milwaukee County recalls and the Senate GOP recalls. The seven supervisors lost because their votes in favor of the county’s 2000–01 pension and benefits package put the county on the hook for as much as $900 million. That would be a good definition of misconduct in public office. So would leaving the state to prevent a quorum to prevent a vote you’re going to lose (Holperin, Wirch and the rest of the Fleeing Fourteen). To recall an elected official based on a vote, or series of votes, he or she takes on policy you disagree with may be legal, but it’s wrong.

And here’s the punch line: What is to prevent future Republicans from doing the exact same thing? What if a future Democratic governor raises taxes as much as the Dumocrats would like them to be raised? Should that governor be recalled because you disagree with the governor’s position on taxes? Should Fred Clark be recalled because of his loutish behavior toward one of his constituents? Are we really in the Clintonian era of the permanent campaign, regardless of which party controls what in Madison? And is that really good for Wisconsin?

One thought on “The recall election hangover blog, part 1

  1. “Randy Hopper. In 2008 he got 41,852 votes. In 2011 King got 28,188. Difference of 13,664”

    Gosh, I have no idea why there were more votes in 2008 than 2011. What happened in 2008 again?

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