This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows Wisconsin politics, even from a distance, but the Republican strategy in the face of six state recall elections is to simply make a lot of noise and confuse people. Everyone who isn’t a rabid, tea-crazed wingnut knows that the recall elections are inevitable, knows that the petitions that will force the elections were circulated properly, and knows that the signatures are 99% legitimate. It feels great to be on the right side of history. Like ants on my brick patio after my dog has crushed their ant hill, Wisconsin's most powerful Republicans are scurrying around not sure what to do or where to go.
Wisconsin’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and four state Senators have had recall petitions submitted against them. One of the senators, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, announced today that he will challenge more than 3,000 of the approximately 20,600 signatures turned in by the “Recall Fitz” committee. He will also argue that signatures collected on the last day of the recall window established by the Government Accountability Board (GAB) should not be counted, claiming that the GAB erred and allowed an extra, 61st day. Finally, he will argue that signatures should have been gathered within new boundaries of his district that are scheduled to take effect in November. (These are the redistricting lines drawn in secret by lawyers hired by Republican legislative leaders. Those maps are being challenged in federal court and it’s looking more and more likely they will be overturned.)
If Fitzgerald is successful with all his challenges and the two additional legal arguments, recall organizers will be left with fewer than the 16,742 signatures required to force an election. Fitzgerald, however, has made both arguments before in legal challenges to the recall process and has lost both times. He will almost certainly lose again and the GAB will find there are enough valid signatures. They will then schedule an election.
So far, there has been no word from the other three state Senators facing recall on their plans to challenge signatures. They have until Thursday to file official challenges with the GAB.
Meanwhile, in the recall against Governor Scott Walker, two Tea Party groups are making a fuss over fraudulent or invalid signatures they plan to uncover with help from volunteer verifiers from across the country. The million+ signatures against Governor Walker are available in PDF files on the GAB’s web site and the Tea Party groups claim to have thousands of citizens entering the names and addresses from those files into a database and checking for errors and duplicates. The GAB has said they will not entertain challenges from outside groups or individuals, but will rely on their own internal processes and only review challenges brought by the officials who have been targeted for recall. In other words, the GAB will follow the law.
The Tea Party groups have responded predictably with hyperbolic, faux outrage, claiming that the results of any elections will be in doubt if the GAB doesn’t allow outside influence. It’s not even a debatable question, but the goal of the Tea Party groups isn’t to document the 460,000 bad signatures they would need to stave off an election. Their intent is to cast doubt on the integrity of the GAB. They knew from the start that their objections would be ignored. One member of the board, which consists of retired judges, called the Tea Party's reaction “…a bit of theater.” Kevin Kennedy, director of the GAB, explained it this way: "Just like a court you don't just allow people to walk in and say, 'I've got additional evidence.'" Kennedy didn’t add “Duhh”, but he should have.
The actions by Fitzgerald and the Tea Party fringe were predicted months ago. Frankly, their behavior is really pathetic...and I love it! When the Republicans lose their arguments at the GAB, they will go to court. When they lose there, they will appeal to other courts. They are stalling, but no amount of legal dilly-dallying will discount the undisputed fact that the people of Wisconsin have spoken. We want recall elections and we shall have recall elections.
Given the revelations that are surfacing daily about the corruption surrounding Scott Walker and the secret oaths being taken by Republican legislators to hide legislation from the public, it would be a far better strategy for them to waive their right to challenge the signatures and just get it over with. The more they delay, the more motions they file, the more confused they make the electorate, the more likely it is that Wisconsinites will get so frustrated that they just vote them all out to get a fresh start.
UPDATE:Darlene Wink, a Scott Walker staffer when he was the Milwaukee County Executive, struck a plea bargain and pleaded guilty today to two misdemeanor counts of illegal fundraising and political work. The Walkergate scandal began in 2010 when it was reported that Wink was doing campaign work on county time. Walker claims he asked for her resignation at that time and knew of no other wrongdoing on his watch. Her sentencing has been delayed until May. Prosecutors will likely suggest no jail time, depending on the level of cooperation they get from Wink. Word is she's already singing like a canary on a 5-Hour-Energy drink.