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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

GAB Puts Off Decision on 3 Deserters

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GAB OKs recalls against 3 more Republicans

Madison - State election officials on Tuesday approved recall elections against three Republican senators Tuesday but put off decisions on certifying recall petitions against three Democrats.
That drew cries of partisanship from Republicans and set up the possibility that two sets of recall elections would be held a week apart, rather than all on the same day.
"This is an example of a supposedly neutral government agency acting in a blatantly partisan manner to further the objectives of a particular political party," said Dan Hunt, who led the effort to recall Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie).
Shane Falk, an attorney for the Government Accountability Board, said the board has been working overtime to review all the petitions, with half a dozen board employees working on them over the Memorial Day weekend. But they have not had time to fully analyze the challenges to the recalls against Democrats, which are based on different arguments than the Republican challenges.
"We've attempted to work concurrently on all the petitions, but we simply don't have enough staff," Falk told the board.
The board on Tuesday unanimously approved recall elections for Republican Sens. Rob Cowles of Allouez, Alberta Darling of River Hills and Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls. That follows rulings last week to hold recall elections for Republican Sens. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, Dan Kapanke of La Crosse and Luther Olsen of Ripon.
Republicans are trying to recall three Democratic senators - Wirch, Dave Hansen of Green Bay and Jim Holperin of Conover.
The recall attempts - unprecedented in Wisconsin and the nation - were launched in response to the stance senators took on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's now-stalled plan to greatly limit collective bargaining for public workers.
The board was not able to meet initial deadlines to determine whether recall elections should be held because they had to review tens of thousands of signatures and legal arguments from the two sides. It also at the time was in the midst of conducting a recount in the April 5 race for state Supreme Court - the first statewide recount in more than two decades.
In April, Dane County Circuit Judge John W. Markson agreed to extend the deadline on calling the elections until this Friday.
Now, board officials plan to return to court to ask for another extension because they say they can't meet the Friday deadline for the three Democrats. Falk said a court hearing was likely Wednesday or Thursday, and at that time the board will request permission to certify any additional recall elections next week.
The board had been working under a plan to hold all recall elections on July 12. If there were more than one challenger in any race, the July 12 election would become a primary, and the general recall election would be Aug. 9.
If the judge agrees to the new deadline, and the board found recall elections should be held against the Democrats, those elections would be held a week later - on July 19. If there were multiple challengers, the July 19 election would become a primary and the general recall election would be Aug. 16.
The court, however, could change the schedule, either by delaying the Republican recall elections or ordering the board to complete work on the petitions against Democrats by Friday's deadline.
When Markson granted the first extension, he said he wanted the board to work as quickly as possible and was not taking into consideration any advantages for election workers to hold all the elections on the same day.
Once recall elections are certified, the senators have seven days to sue to try to stop them. The Republicans are considering whether to do that, said their attorney, Eric McLeod.
The decision to sign off on recalls for Republicans before Democrats unleashed howls of protests from Republicans. At a news conference outside of the board meeting, Hunt called for the board's director, Kevin Kennedy, to resign.
Also at the news conference were David VanderLeest, who oversaw the recall campaign against Hansen, and Kim Simac, who led the effort to recall Holperin. VanderLeest and Simac plan to run if recall elections are held.
VanderLeest called on the Legislature to defund the accountability board and "replace it with a body that can be unbiased as it is supposed to be."
"We have a biased body that has no check or balance with the voters," VanderLeest said.
Two University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professors who have worked in the past with the accountability board defended it from charges of bias.
Barry Burden, who specializes in elections in his research, said the nonpartisan board is preferable to the setup in other states, where the elected secretary of state has control over elections. That led to questions about the process during presidential elections in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, he noted.
Said the UW's David Canon: "I've never seen any hint of partisan bias. They absolutely try to oversee Wisconsin election laws fairly."
Both also said the delay on the petitions against Democrats seemed to be justified by the complexity of their challenges.
Rick Esenberg, a visiting assistant professor at Marquette University Law School who teaches election law, said he knew of no evidence that the board was biased, and he wouldn't level that accusation.
"But," he added, "I would say that from a public relations standpoint and a public confidence standpoint," the decision to go ahead with recalls of Republicans while delaying a decision on Democrats "looks just awful."
"If you're supposed to be a neutral arbiter, it's the kind of approach you want to avoid," said Esenberg. "You don't want to create the impression you're giving either side the advantage."

Court order

Eric McLeod, a lawyer for the Republicans, said the board was operating in defiance of the court order because it did not take up the petitions against the Democrats on Tuesday and has not announced plans to meet again until June 8.
Kennedy said the board has not violated and will not violate the court order. He has been the state's chief election official since 1982, and he reacted coolly to the call for his resignation.
"It's an easy call for people to make - 'Kill the ref,' " Kennedy said. "It happens in every sport."
Kennedy and board members were emphatic that politics did not play a role in their decisions, though board Chairman Thomas Barland said he was concerned about public perception.
"Politics has never been part of our interest or part of our agenda," said accountability board member Thomas Cane.
The board is composed of six retired judges and was designed by the Legislature to be as nonpartisan as possible. Three years ago, it replaced the Elections Board, which was appointed by elected officials and political parties.
At no time in U.S. history have attempts been made to recall so many legislators at the same time over the same issue. To recall a senator in Wisconsin, recall organizers had to gather signatures from voters in each district equivalent to 25% of the number of people who voted for governor in November. That meant the staff had to review more than 18,000 signatures for each recall attempt.
They also had to weigh challenges to those petitions. The Republicans said the Democrats had improperly filed their initial paperwork for the recalls, while the Democrats contend petitions against them should be thrown out because they allege fraud was committed in gathering many of the signatures.
Reviewing the latest challenges by the Republicans was relatively easy because the board already had considered the same arguments when it considered the challenges to other Republicans last week. But the challenges to the Democratic signatures have not been fully analyzed, Falk said.
But Republicans said the way the board handled the petitions was unfair because the ones against Democrats were filed before the one against Cowles, a Republican.
The governor's plan to limit collective bargaining passed the Legislature, but Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi voided it last week because she found a legislative committee had violated the state's open meetings law in passing it.
Walker is asking the state Supreme Court to take over the case and reinstate the changes on collective bargaining. A hearing is scheduled for Monday, and if the justices do not act quickly, lawmakers are considering putting the measure on collective bargaining into the state budget they will pass next week.
Tom Tolan of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
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