Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Archive for the ‘Voting’ Category

Time to Vote…and Some Thoughts on the Milwaukee Mayor’s Race

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Today, we vote primarily for school board members and judges in Wisconsin.

Yes, we vote for judges here, even though few of us — myself included — know much about any of them. While I do my research, I mostly try to see if the judge’s written responses in their decisions make sense and follow what I know of the law. If they do, they get my vote regardless of party. If they don’t — or if they behave in a markedly inflammatory manner (as a few of the past judges on the Wisconsin state Supreme Court have done) — they don’t.

Milwaukee’s mayoral race is probably the biggest thing up for grabs in the entire state of Wisconsin. I have no dog in this fight, and of course as I don’t live in Milwaukee I also don’t have a vote. But I do have a few things to say about it.

The race features acting mayor and alderman Cavalier Johnson against longtime retired alderman Bob Donovan. Donovan is a very “by the book” law-and-order candidate, while Johnson is more worried about how well (or poorly) Milwaukee is doing economically. This is not at all to say that Donovan doesn’t care about Milwaukee’s economy or that Johnson doesn’t care about how many crimes there are in Milwaukee. But their focus is different.

In the past few days, Johnson’s family has come into the spotlight, particularly one brother who’s had lifelong problems with the law. Johnson’s brother has been arrested again for allegedly shooting someone this past January. Johnson has said from the get-go (from when he ran for alderman several years ago) that he has one brother who works within the justice system, and one that is almost always in the justice system (meaning he’s behind bars more often than he’s out on the street). He has not tried in any way to hide anything.

Donovan, however, decided to go after Johnson because it took the police a while to arrest Johnson’s brother for this latest crime. Donovan says it shows that Johnson leaned on the police department heavily.

I, personally, do not believe this.


Well, here’s my logic. I know, going back to that horrible scene in Waukesha last year where that idiotic driver hit a whole bunch of people and killed six of them, that it took at least two weeks for this man (who I still won’t name) to be arraigned. (They did get him into custody within a day.) This is a guy who wouldn’t have even been out on the street except for a glitch in the system and an incredibly low bail amount, which mostly seemed to be blamed on the Covid pandemic causing hearings to be virtual and many things to be missed.

So, if it took a few weeks for the Waukesha police department and the justice system to get their ducks in a row with a heinous (alleged) crime like that one, and I know also how Milwaukee has had issues with their justice system in that more people than not seemed to fall straight through the cracks as I said above, it doesn’t surprise me whatsoever that it would take a couple of months for Johnson’s brother to be arrested for this latest alleged infraction.

Now, can the Mayor’s office lean on the police? As a practical matter, I’m guessing yes.

But would Johnson, who’s just the acting mayor (as the previous mayor, Tom Barrett, was named to be the Ambassador to Luxembourg), want to run the risk all of this would come out at the most inopportune time? Of course not.

I believe Donovan is grasping at straws. It won’t help him. The people who were going to vote for him probably will no matter what, but a late push for something like that when the polling shows you way down (as apparently the polling does with Donovan) usually does not help.

Yes, polling can be wrong. We saw that in 2016 in the Presidential election.

Still. Local polling tends to be more accurate than national races, as there are fewer factors to weigh and far fewer people to sample to get any sort of idea as to how people are leaning toward voting at any given time.

I will be keeping an eye on the Milwaukee mayor’s race, as I believe it will be interesting. But my own votes today will be for county supervisor, judges, and school board members.

One final thought: The Waukesha Republican Party has put out an entire slate of school board members. They are proud of this. They believe this will help them in statewide races later this year (as both Governor and one US Senator’s race will be up for grabs).

I don’t like this at all.

School board members should concentrate on one thing: how well does the school system educate their kids. They should not worry about whether their votes align with Donald Trump or any other candidate, Republican or Democrat.

Truth is truth, after all.

My view is very simple here. If these school board members the Republicans put up get in there, I will hope they use their common sense and vote for sane, sensible public policy. I hope they will worry about how well — or poorly — the kids in their district are educated.

That’s what matters in a school board race.

Voting, Nightmare Scenarios, and the 2020 Election

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Folks, this past week, for me at least, has been one of great dismay.

After the death of ground-breaking Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), didn’t even wait a full day before saying “her seat will be filled as soon as possible.” (This is my best paraphrase of the many things he did say.) As I said in my last blog, this is contrary to what McConnell did the last time a Justice — in that case, Antonin Scalia — passed away in an election year, as at that time he more or less filibustered the nomination of then-President Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, for the Supreme Court.

But that wasn’t all that was so disheartening out of Washington, DC, this past week.

Nope. We also got a very oddly worded, meandering comment by President Donald Trump (a Republican, in case anyone has forgotten), saying that he felt the ballots are a “disaster” and that he shouldn’t have to worry about leaving. (This was in response to a question about the peaceful transfer of power, something that has been a hallmark of American democracy since its inception.)

Because of that, a good friend of mine discussed with me the following scenario, which comes straight out of the Constitution: Trump is apparently leaning hard on Article 2, which would in effect throw the election (if disputed) to the House of Representatives. Every state there gets one and only one vote. And there are more Republican-led states than not, so it’s quite possible that even with a landslide victory for Joe Biden (a Democrat), Trump could still conceivably stay in office.

My response to this, aside from incredulousness of course, was as following: “If there’s a landslide for Biden and his VP pick, Kamala Harris, there’s likely to be a Democratic Senate along with a Democratic House. Trump will be impeached in short order, for pulling something like that, and he’ll have bought himself a maximum of six to nine months. What’s the point of that?”

My friend assured me that to Trump, every day in office counts. It gives him and his family more chances to amass power (and, I suppose, wealth). And, of course, the Constitution doesn’t allow for any sitting President to be arrested on any charges, anywhere in the world…mostly because the rather naïve belief was that anyone terrible enough to be charged with anything would be impeached in short order, and then no longer out of reach of the legal system.

(Ah, the innocence of the Constitutional framers. They could not have conceived of the situation of 2020, nor the naked partisanship of the Republican Party as led by Trump and McConnell. They knew naked partisanship, mind; how not? But they didn’t necessarily understand that some people are just immoral, and will grasp power for its own ends just because. Or maybe they did, but figured there would be enough good people to oppose such a power grab in the Senate…but woe betide us, as there aren’t.)

The idea that my vote, your vote, your parents’ votes, your friends’ votes, and even your enemies’ votes won’t be likely to be fairly counted because counting the votes is not in the current President’s best interest bothers me greatly. It is undemocratic and unAmerican. And it also flies in the face of Trump’s followers, because most of them voted for him believing he would be a capable President and behave as Presidents do…that is, if they get voted out, they leave, peaceably, and let the next President take over.

Even though Trump did not win the popular vote last time, he did win in the Electoral College. This still reflects that, at that time, Trump was respecting conventional norms; his was a legal way through, and also an ethical way through. It wasn’t a preferred way through — most Presidents prefer to win the popular vote and the electoral college, if they can — but it was both legal and ethical. And he did win many votes, though not the most, as Hillary Clinton led by over three million votes overall.

In the situation I’ve described, where the election is not in doubt and Biden has won by swamping Donald Trump, but there are many legal challenges — so many, a slate of electors from each state cannot be chosen in a timely manner — we’d be thrown to Article 2 of the Constitution. And while that is completely legal, it is not ethical. Nor is it moral, to overturn the overwhelming will of the voters like that, which is why up until now it’s never been tried.

This year, it may be, though. And the prospect of it vexes me greatly.

The thing is, something tells me this is being thrown out as a red herring. It’s being thrown out to suppress the will of the voters. It’s being thrown out there to make people believe their vote doesn’t matter. That nothing they do will ever matter. And that there’s no way to overcome the Trump Machine/Republican Party as led by Trump/McConnell…even by voting them out.

My belief, therefore, is that we MUST vote. (I want everyone to vote, even if you still believe Trump is wonderful in every way and deserves a second term despite his obvious mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States.) We have to vote. We have to show what our will is, and trust that there are enough good people out there to overcome the bad ones — whomever or whatever they may be, and whomever and whatever they try to do — and do our civic duty despite all efforts to depress us and make us too despondent to do anything at all.

And if worse comes to worst, and Trump stays in due to using Article 2 of the Constitution to blatantly disrespect the will of the people, I’ll have to trust that somehow, some way, the ship will be righted. And that we will not slide further into autocracy, much less a straight-up dictatorship, with a second, undeserved in this scenario, presidency.

What do you think of my nightmare scenario? Tell me about it in the comments!

Surreality, or, the Virus that Ate 2020

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Does anyone else feel like they went to bed one day, and woke up in a brand new — albeit distasteful in the extreme — world?

Whenever I drive anywhere for a necessary reason, the land itself looks shrunken, somehow. There are fewer cars. Many fewer people. And even the warmth of the sun (when we see it or can feel it) seems far less than it should be.

I term all of this “surreality.” A contraction of “surreal” and “reality,” surreality is our new normal.

We’re told to stay inside now, because of the virulence of the coronavirus/covid 19. It’s the only way to “flatten the curve” (that is, to make it easier for hospitals and medical personnel to handle this, so we don’t all go at once and overload the system). And most of the places we’d go if we could aren’t open, from the library to most restaurants (though some do have drive-thru or curbside services). Even churches are not exempt, because while we need spiritual solace now as much as we ever have, the coronavirus does not respect the sanctity of the church.

(To put it mildly.)

Even voting is harder than it should be, and I know this because I’m about to go cast my ballot in Wisconsin’s April 7th primary election. I know with my asthma and other health challenges that I do not want to be going out to vote the day of, so I’d better do it today or it won’t get done.

You may be wondering about voting absentee (that is, not in person as an early voter). Where I live, the system is overloaded. I do not trust that I’d get my ballot on time, or at all, unless I actually go in there.

The whole thing is surreal. (Thus, surreality.) The whole world seems to have gone crazy. And the only way we have to deal with this new type of coronavirus (covid-19) is to do what our ancestors would’ve done and stay home.

The more things change, the more they stay the same (as the French say).

Anyway, how has reality shifted or contracted or changed for you? Let me know in the comments. (And is it as surreal for you as it is for me?)


BTW, if you want to further support what I’m doing, please check out my Patreon account. (I’m not going to ask often; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever asked before at all. But I will today; humor me, will you?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 3, 2020 at 2:20 pm

Your Vote Is Your Voice…

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…and you’d better use it.

Tomorrow is election day nationwide. The 2018 midterm elections are contentious, to put it mildly, and many things are in play. We won’t know probably what’s going to happen until sometime in December — yes, December — because there are some states that have automatic run-offs. But I should know by tomorrow night what happened in Wisconsin, and whether or not I will finally have a Democratic Representative to the U.S. Congress after living here for fourteen years.

As my great-grandfather P.J. put it, “Time for the other party to line its pockets for a while.” (This is my best paraphrase.) But beyond the cynicism of that, there’s a lot of truth there, insofar as it’s never good for one party or one person to stay in office for such a long time that he or she has no real opposition.

We need races where the incumbent has to campaign. Because otherwise, why will they care about us, or our needs?

I’m tired of politicians in DC and Madison (my state capitol) doing whatever the Hell they want. I want them to be held accountable. I lean Democrat, but I am an independent; yes, I voted for Hillary Clinton (and I would do it again), but had she gotten in and not done what I expected? She’d not have gotten my vote the next time.

Because I pay attention. I do my research. And I vote.

I wish I could run for office. It’s never been in the cards for me for a wide variety of reasons. But I do have a few friends who are running for office. They are from different parties, live in different states, and believe in mostly different things. But one thing they do have in common is their belief in the power of the vote.

Your vote really is your voice. And it’s never been more important to be heard than right now. (No, this is not hyperbole.)

What do you want out of your government?

Whatever it is, you had best vote your conscience. And vote your beliefs, your values…make the best educated guesses you have, after doing your research of course, and find your way into that voting booth (unless you voted early, like me) and do your thing. Because that’s the best way to get representative governance that will actually listen to the people. Not go too high, too low, too fast, or too slow…be just right.

Of course, that’s hard to do. But it is the goal. And responsible politicians know that’s what they need to aim for. (Irresponsible politicians need not apply.)

Anyway, you need to ponder what you want. Who will represent you the best. And vote accordingly.

Vote. Vote. Vote.

P.S. And if you don’t vote, and the outcome is not what you desired, that is partly on you. (Got it? Good.)

P.P.S. I have intentionally made this as nonpartisan a message as possible, as I believe voting is not partisan. (If anyone has a problem with this, too bad.) But as to whom I’m supporting this time? Tony Evers for Governor. Randy Bryce for U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin to continue her excellent job in the U.S. Senate. I also voted yes for medicinal marijuana and for decriminalization of marijuana offenses in the state/local initiatives.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 5, 2018 at 10:20 pm

On Pins and Needles

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Folks, like many of you, I’m waiting on pins and needles for tonight’s election returns. And it’s not just for the results of the Presidential election, as we also have an election in Wisconsin for the United States Senate that’s been hotly contested from the start.


Well, it’s not every day that you have a former U.S. Senator in Russ Feingold (D) running against a current U.S. Senator in Ron Johnson (R).

As you might expect, voter turnout in Wisconsin is incredibly high. I heard yesterday, while listening to WTMJ-AM radio, that 800,000 people voted early/absentee. (I was one of them, by the way.)

I’m glad that so many people are voting in Wisconsin, and all over the nation. We need voters to be heard, unequivocally, so no one can doubt that the vote is “rigged.”

My view is simple: We need Hillary Clinton as our next President, because she’s competent, qualified, responsible, and will govern well.

But I don’t insist that everyone vote the way I did, as that would be both silly and stupid. I know other friends of mine are voting for Gary Johnson, Donald Trump, and Evan McMullen, and I respect that.

So long as you have made an informed choice, that’s all anyone can ask.

Anyway, if you haven’t voted yet, make sure you do. Don’t sit this election out — granted, you should not sit any election out — only to complain later.

‘Nuff said.

Voting and Disappointment

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Folks, I’m sorry to say that business as usual will continue in Wisconsin. Scott Walker won re-election, which I have to say I don’t understand…and there were some truly puzzling things going on in other races, too. (How did Douglas LaFollette only get 49% in his Secretary of State race? He should’ve won with 60% of the vote, as he always does.)

But the voters have spoken. Scott Walker remains the Governor of Wisconsin.

(In case you were wondering, I am truly disappointed.)

It’s not so much that Scott Walker has been re-elected that bothers me, though admittedly I wanted him out. It’s that I don’t see anything in Wisconsin that’s likely to improve with him as our Governor.

Definitely, nothing will improve in Racine, where crying economic needs have been unmet for the past ten years or more.

While I was not a fan of Mary Burke, as I felt she was a corporate Democrat who didn’t have any understanding of the middle or lower classes in Wisconsin, if she had been elected, there might’ve been a prayer that something, anything, might improve.

Instead, we’re going to get the same-old, same-old.

And that’s incredibly disappointing.

Because I’m a prognosticator by trade ( at least part of the time), I will point out that I didn’t think Burke was the answer for Wisconsin.

But I don’t think Scott Walker is the answer, either.

That being said, our choices right now are few. We’ll have to hunker down and endure in Racine, again, as I doubt Walker will approve the casino expansion in Kenosha (one of the few things that might create some desperately needed jobs; something Walker has stalled for the last two years or more).

But I will keep my eyes on the one, potential saving grace: the possibility that if Walker does not change, does not at least become willing to do something to promote true economic opportunity in Wisconsin, he can be recalled in 2016.

Wouldn’t that be a blow to his Presidential aspirations?

Do Your Civic Duty — Get Out And Vote!

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Folks, it’s Election Day. I’m proud to say that I voted over an hour ago.

And even though it’s nearly 5:30 PM in the Central Time Zone, there’s still time for you to get out and do your civic duty by voting if you haven’t done it already.

Now why should you do this? It’s simple. Since we live in a democratic republic, the best way we have to affect the outcome is by voting.

Now, you might be saying, “Hey, Barb. I know I should vote, but I haven’t a clue who to vote for. Can you help me out a little?”

Well, sure. Here’s a quick-and-dirty summation of how and why I vote.

If I like what’s going on in my state, I tend to vote for incumbents.

If I do not like what’s going on — and I think I’ve made it clear over the past four years that I do not — I vote against the incumbents.

(Or in plain language: Yes, I proudly voted against Scott Walker for the third time. Let’s hope the third time is the charm.)

In the other races, I used the same strategy unless there was someone I truly wanted to vote for. (In this case, as I like John Lehman and Rob Zerban, I voted in their favor for Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Representative accordingly.)

And in the referendums, I used my best judgment.

As Robert A. Heinlein once put it (this being my best paraphrase), it’s better to go vote against than not to vote at all. So please, do go out and vote.

Voting matters, you see. Even if you vote against what I think — or used what I just said as a primer in how not to vote (which is another thing RAH said, long ago) — it’s still important.

Thus concludes tonight’s public service announcement.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 4, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Why Voting is Important — Especially in Local Elections

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Folks, I voted today.

Why is this a big deal? Well, there were no truly contested races on the ballot, except for school board — and as I have no children, you might think I’d not care about that. (Of course, if you did think that way, you’d be wrong. But I digress.) Which is why some people sit small elections like today’s out.

But they shouldn’t.

It’s important to vote in local elections, no matter how small they may seem. People who get elected to the school board, or the county board of supervisors, or are elected as judges need to be held accountable — and need to be fully apprised of what’s going on in and around their own, particular area in order to make good decisions.

Local control is important.

I say all this because we had two elections today in Wisconsin that are highly unusual, because outside influences got heavily involved in them. The first was for the County Board of Supervisors in tiny Iron County, Wisconsin — which has as a population for the entire county around 6,000 (no misprint). And the second was for the Kenosha Unified School Board election, Kenosha being right on the Illinois border and having about 85,000 people within the city, perhaps as many as 170,000 in the county.

And the group that got involved in both cases was Americans for Prosperity, a group widely known to have been founded by the Koch Brothers.

Now, why should the Koch Brothers or AFP care about Iron County, WI? Well, according to this article from, it’s all because of a taconite mine. A billionaire named Chris Cline wants to open the mine according to the Daily Beast, but the Chippewa Indian tribe has objected, along with many environmentalists.

That’s why AFP and the Koch Brothers got involved, apparently — they want this taconite mine to go forward, and they have pumped well over $100,000 of advertising into the sleepy little county to get their own way.

They’ve also apparently recruited or helped to recruit ten candidates to challenge the fifteen incumbents on the Board of Supervisors, as usually the people on this particular supervisory board run unopposed — not because people don’t care, but because it can be hard to find fifteen civic-minded souls who want the job in little Iron County.

So there are fifteen seats, with ten being contested this time around, and a whole lot of misleading advertising thrown into the mix. There also appears to be a rather unusual connection to Governor Scott Walker and many of the Republicans currently sitting in the state Legislature that is accounting for at least some of the involvement by AFP (you need to read the Daily Beast article to find out why), which just screams that something strange is going on here.

As writer Dean Obeidallah says for the Daily Beast:

This all appears to be legal, but I doubt I’m the only one who feels something is horribly wrong. This is reminiscent of the “cooper kings” who in the early 1900’s controlled Montana politics with their mining money.

Rest assured, Mr. Obeidallah, that you are far from the only one who feels this is morally wrong, as well as more than a little bit underhanded.

But all of that, bad as it is, pales in some ways to what’s going on in Kenosha. (Kenosha, for those of you not from Southeastern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, is Racine’s nearest neighbor to the south and is the first big city you drive through if you’re on I-94 driving into Wisconsin.)

Here in Southeastern Wisconsin, we’ve had a fight on our hands with regards to private charter schools versus public education. Racine was one of the first “pilot programs” in the state for private charter schools being funded by taxpayer dollars, and we didn’t exactly do very well — yet the program has been expanded, little by little, even though privately-owned charter schools have been proven thus far to actually be educating children even more poorly than the public schools.

Well, Kenosha Unified School District has been vocal in the past about the need for more funding for public schools. They do not want to see private schools expand into the Kenosha area whatsoever. And they have continued to be a staunch supporter of the teacher’s union.

All three of those things are apparently things AFP and the Koch Brothers do not support.

Let’s be honest here. The main reason the Rs in Wisconsin want private charter schools is to break the remains of the teacher’s union here in Wisconsin. So a pro-union district like Kenosha or Racine is a big, fat target to them.

That’s why AFP — a long-time supporter of both the national and Wisconsin Rs — got involved in, of all things, the Kenosha Unified School Board election.

So there you have it: AFP has inserted itself into not one, but two local elections because they apparently see their own interests in taconite mining and private charter schools at risk.

When the Republicans, in and out of Wisconsin, are all supposedly for “local control,” this sort of interference really seems hypocritical.

Anyway, it’ll be hours before all the results come in with regards to both elections, but I’ll try to write a follow-up blog tomorrow about whatever happened, and whatever lessons can be learned after the fact.

But for now, make no mistake about it — local elections are important.

And the Koch Brothers know it.


Ohio Voters Have Spoken; It’s “NO!” on Issue 2

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Tonight, Ohio voted on Issue 2, which was whether or not Senate Bill 5 should be upheld.  By a 61-39% margin, Ohio’s voters have spoken — and the word is “No.”

Don’t know what Senate Bill 5 was?  Well, in essence it struck down collective bargaining for everyone in the state of Ohio, including firefighters, nurses, teachers, policemen, and snowplow drivers.   And while most people believe public employees should pay more for their health care coverage or not get raises during a terrible economic climate, most don’t want to go so far as eliminating all forms of collective bargaining, as it’s a classic Republican overreach.

That’s why many people wanted it overturned, and voted accordingly.  Because SB 5 went too far.

Here’s a link to the Huffington Post article:

Ohioans overturned a divisive anti-union law on Tuesday, delivering a significant defeat to Republican Gov. John Kasich and a victory to labor unions.

Ohio voters rejected Issue 2, a ballot referendum on Senate Bill 5, a measure that restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 360,000 public employees, among other provisions. Opposition to the legislation inspired large protests from residents around the state this year.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was quoted in this same article as saying:

“One message rang loud and clear tonight in Ohio and across the country: those who spend their time scapegoating workers and pushing a partisan agenda will only strengthen the resolve of working people,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “From the very beginning, it’s been clear that Gov. Kasich, and indeed many politicians, were pushing an agenda that was about politics, not about solving our nation’s problems or creating jobs.”

Ohio Governor John Kasich (R), who worked hard to keep Senate Bill 5 on the books, was quoted as saying that he needs to “take a deep breath,” though his concession speech was gracious.  From the same HuffPo article:

“The people have spoken clearly. You don’t ignore the public. Look, I also have an obligation to lead. I’ve been leading since the day I took this office, and I’ll continue to do that. But part of leading is listening and hearing what people have to say to you.”

(An aside:  hear that, Gov.  Scott Walker (R-WI)?  Heed Kasich’s message and you might be retained; no matter what, you will be recalled.)

Someone the HuffPo article describes as “a spokesman for the International Association of Firefighters, who was not authorized to speak on the record,” had this to say:

“Kasich ran on a platform of growth, and his first thing is to give tax breaks to the rich, increase the pay of his staff significantly — while at the same time, he’s trying to cut the firefighters and police and teachers and nurses. It’s an overreach,” he said. “They went a little too far, and what’s happening here in Ohio is another step in what happened in Wisconsin.”

So that’s it; the people of Ohio have spoken.  Senate Bill 5 has been defeated.

May the happy dance commence.

Written by Barb Caffrey

November 9, 2011 at 12:30 am

1996 Petak-Plache Recall Race Holds the Key to 2011 Recalls

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Folks, I live in Racine, Wisconsin, so I know full well what happened on June 4, 1996.  But for the rest of you, here’s a quick primer.

In October of 1995, George Petak (R-Racine), Wisconsin state Senator from district 21, cast the decisive vote in order to fund the construction of Miller Park in Milwaukee (and keep the Milwaukee Brewers in Wisconsin) by allowing a five county “sales tax” of .01% to go into effect.   (In case you’re wondering, the other four counties being taxed on behalf of the Brewers are Ozaukee, Milwaukee, Waukesha and Washington; the sales tax is expected to end sometime between 2015 and 2018.)

Now, Petak had said until the very last minute that he’d vote “no” on this.  But then-Governor Tommy Thompson twisted his arm, Petak voted “yes,” and many in Racine County (including Brewers fans) were incensed because Petak hadn’t done what he said he was going to do.  (In fact, the Racine Journal-Times’ headline the day after the vote was something like “Petak votes no,” giving us our very own “Dewey beats Truman” moment.)

This palpable anger over Petak’s “bait-and-switch” tactics was the main reason he was recalled, and the palpable anger over Scott Walker’s “bait-and-switch” tactics with regards to the state budget and most especially the fight over collective bargaining for public employee unions is the main reason why the six Republican state Senators have been forced to run in recall elections. 

Experts, including political scientists, said in late 1995-early 1996 that Petak would never be recalled, because the two previous recall elections in WI history had retained the incumbents, but they were wrong.   While experts, once again including political scientists, didn’t think that nine Senators (six Rs, 3 Ds) would end up having to defend their seats in recall elections — but again, they were wrong.

The reasons why Petak’s decision was controversial were:

1) Racine County had no county sales tax mechanism at the time whatsoever, and getting the mechanism in place in the short run cost more than any collecting of tax.

2) Racine County, while next to Milwaukee County, doesn’t get a lot of business visitors or tourist business from there, so any economic “help” coming from this would be negligible.

3) As previously stated, Petak had said he was opposed until the 11th hour, then switched his vote.  This turned the anger over the idea of a county-wide sales tax into white-hot rage and led to Petak’s recall

4) And last but certainly not least, as the Wisconsin state Senate was comprised of 17 Rs and 16 Ds at the time Petak cast his vote, you can see why the big money came out in order to change the composition of the state Senate.  Not to mention all the requisite highly-negative ads.  (Why do they run those ads, anyway?  They only rarely change an informed voter’s mind, and trust me — in Wisconsin, we are informed about these issues or we don’t bother voting.)

Petak, who was primaried by another Republican but fended him off, eventually lost to Democrat Kim Plache and was the first government official to be recalled in Wisconsin history.**

What I saw in 1996 is what I’m seeing right now with the recall efforts against the six Republicans who will face an election on August 9, 2011 (three days and a few hours from now).   It’s an election being held at an odd time, where passions must be high to get voters to the polls.  There’s lots of money coming in from out of the state and inordinate negative ads on television and radio, some of which bear little resemblance to reality.  The control of the Senate is in question, as the Dems need only three of the six seats to “flip” to Democratic control (then to retain the two Democrats who were recalled and need to run on August 16, 2011).  And the vitriol on both sides is so deafening it’s nearly impossible to tell who’s going to do what to whom at this point, as it’s now become an endurance contest.

However, there are some differences as well, those being:

1) We’ve never had nine Senators recalled in the same year before (3 Ds, one of whom has already retained his seat, Dave Hansen of Green Bay, and 6 Rs).

2) We’ve never had a Governor who’s this unpopular before.  Walker’s been tied to all six Senators (for good or ill) due to all of these votes being taken on Walker’s behalf and due to Walker’s agenda.  So these races are as much about Scott Walker as they are about the individual Senators.

3)  And finally, the national Democratic and Republican parties have taken a far larger role in 2011 than I remember them doing in 1996.  Both major parties seem to believe that if their side wins these six recall races, they’ll gain traction for the 2012 House, Senate, and Presidential races.

As to the tactics of what’s going on in order to get out the vote — well, quite frankly, some of it is highly disturbing.  There are allegations that PACs favoring Sandy Pasch (a Democratic Assemblywoman from Sheboygan) gave out free food in exchange for a quick ride to the polls, which is wrong no matter who does it.  (I’m all for giving out free food.  And I’m all for voting.  But the two shouldn’t go together.)  Then, there are the allegations (noted in the same article) that the sitting Senator from district 8, Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), Pasch’s opponent, has colluded with outside PACs to send out fake absentee ballots with the wrong dates on them.  Under Wisconsin law, doing anything like that — the collusion by itself, mind you — is against the law.  While putting the wrong dates on the absentee ballots is just stupid.  (Note that in the case of alleged wrongdoing with the “free food for votes” scam, Pasch herself had nothing to do with it.)

Next, in one of the recall races being held on August 16, 2011, the Republican challenger, Kim Simac, refused to debate incumbent Senator Jim Holperin (D-Conover) and didn’t tell anyone she wasn’t going to show up.  Not a good move there, no matter how her handlers try to spin it (supposedly Simac “never committed” to this debate; I can’t imagine that excuse is going to go over well with the voters).

Back to the Rs — there’s Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who said publicly that he was against the “fake Democrats” who entered the Democratic primary in order to give the Republicans more time to fundraise, yet then praised Rol Church, a long-time Republican Party activist, at one of his GOTV rallies.  Not to mention that Olsen is the first R known to have Gov. Walker at one of his rallies (even if Walker may have come in via the back door)  — most are keeping Walker away like the plague, knowing he’s “box office poison” due to Walker’s unpopularity (Walker is booed wherever he goes, including a recent appearance at the Wisconsin State Fair) — after saying that Scott Walker’s policies are “too extreme” for Wisconsin and saying he wishes he’d have voted differently back in February.

Vacillate much, Senator Olsen?

And let’s not forget state Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-LaCrosse), who said back in May of this year:

“We’ve got tons of government workers in my district – tons,” Kapanke said May 25 at the Cedar Creek Golf Club in Onalaska. “From La Crosse to Prairie du Chien and to Viroqua and to Ontario and to Hillsboro, you can go on and on and on. We have to overcome that. We’ve got to hope that they, kind of, are sleeping on July 12th – or whenever the (election) date is.”

During the candid chat, Kapanke said he was one of three Republicans in serious jeopardy of losing in a recall election.

The other two, he said, are Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Sen. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac.

“We could lose me. We could lose Randy Hopper in the 18th or Alberta Darling over in – wherever she is – the 8th, I believe,” Kapanke said.

Note this was before Luther Olsen’s recent nonsense, as I’d add Olsen to the list of seriously endangered R Senators.

At any rate, here’s how I handicap the upcoming races:

Sure to lose: Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke may as well pack their bags and go home right now.  They will lose, and they will lose big — Kapanke may lose by double-digits to Assembly Rep. Jennifer Shilling, while Hopper will lose by at least six or eight points to Oshkosh’s Jessica King.

Will most likely lose: Luther Olsen has done himself no favors, and is the third-most likely Senator to be packing his bags.

Will probably lose:  Sheila Harsdorf has name recognition and has been better than the rest of the six Rs at answering questions and talking to her constituents.  Still, she’s parroted the party-line at every turn and refuses to believe any of her votes were wrong for Wisconsin, while her opponent, teacher Shelley Moore, is the person who led the recall effort against Harsdorf.  Providing Moore beats Harsdorf, it won’t be by much.

I sincerely hope this Senator will lose: Alberta Darling has big, big money behind her, and the ads in her favor far outweigh the ads against her.  However, most voters in her district know that it was Darling who led the committee that first “vetted” Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill that eliminated collective bargaining for public employee unions.  Darling, therefore, had all the power in the world to stop this mess before it started, but didn’t.  She definitely deserves to lose, but if she does lose to Sandy Pasch, once again it won’t be by very much.

The wild card:  I honestly do not know what’ll happen in the Robert Cowles-Nancy Nussbaum race.  Cowles has kept his head down and has said very little about his controversial votes; the only reason I think Nussbaum has a chance, aside from the large amount of people who signed to get Cowles recalled, is because she’s a particularly strong candidate (the only stronger one among the six Ds is Shilling) and has articulated a clear vision about what she’ll do once she gets in there.  (I think Nussbaum’s done the best job of this of all six Ds, though props go to King and Pasch for their clear and decisive answers in candidate forums and debates over the past several months.)

So there you have it; my gut says that four, possibly five of the Rs will be joining the unemployment line after the August 9, 2011 elections are over.


** I called it right away that Petak would be recalled; I was working as a cashier at the time, and I knew how angry people were over Petak’s last-minute vote switch.  Even Brewers fans — I’m one — were livid due to the lack of a Racine County sales tax prior to that vote.  Further, people were outraged that Petak would refuse to listen to his district, who were adamantly opposed in big numbers.  This reason — refusing to listen to his district — is why Petak was recalled and Plache went to Madison in his place.  It’s also why at least four of these Republicans will lose on August 9, 2011.