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Recalls a waste of time and money

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Publication:Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date:Aug 18, 2011; Section:Opinion; Page Number:8A    

Recalls a waste of time and money

 All that work just for the status quo

 (James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

    Have I mentioned I hate recall elections? I really, really hate recall elections.

    Tuesday night’s results did little to convince me otherwise. Two Democratic state senators, Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch, were being recalled for fleeing the state when they should have been in the state Capitol debating the changes in the collective bargaining laws for public employees. Both won handily.

    Frustrating? Yes. Holperin represents a Republican-leaning district in the far north of the state. Wirch’s district should lean more Republican than it does. Both districts have strong tea party presences.

    Unfortunately (to use a football analogy) during the recall elections the Democrats played offense and defense while the Republicans strictly played a prevent defense.

    To a certain extent, the Republican strategy worked. In the first round of the recall elections they managed to only lose two seats. Both candidates were terribly flawed, and one of them, state Sen. Dan Kapanke, was just marking time on Democratic ground.

    The other senator, Randy Hopper, almost pulled out a win despite a messy divorce and a much younger girlfriend who found a job on the state payroll. If Hopper had won, we might be looking at a very different Democratic Party in Wisconsin.

    By only losing the two seats that everyone expected them to lose, Republicans maintained control of the state Senate, the state Assembly, the governor’s mansion, and a majority on the state Supreme Court. For good or for ill, the state Republican Party is still in charge.

    On Tuesday night, Republicans could have had a chance for some measure of payback. By all rights, there should have been three Democratic state senators up for recall.

    Unfortunately the incompetence of the Republican Party led to one race getting completely blown when state Rep. John Nygren failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot to challenge state Sen. Dave Hansen. Most campaigns don’t require baby sitters for the nomination petitions, but why were they taking chances?

    That left tea party favorite Kim Simac to take on state Sen. Jim Holperin and Jonathan Steitz to take state Sen. Robert Wirch.

    Simac had a personal story that was interesting and would be familiar to Shania Twain fans. The Democrats tagged her with some tax issues and made the election a referendum on her instead of the incumbent. Add into the mix that Simac was unprepared as a candidate and the Republicans missed a golden opportunity to pad their majority.

    Meanwhile, the Democrats raised issues about Steitz, his business and his tardiness in paying his taxes. Again the race shifted into a straight-up election rather than a referendum on the incumbent, Wirch, leaving the state.

    You would think that after the way the Democrats effectively destroyed businessman Terrence Wall’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2010 that Republicans would include tax accountants in the candidate vetting process.

    If there are lessons in the recall elections, it’s the first rule of politics from the late Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, who said, “All politics is local.”

    Kapanke, Hopper, Simac, and Steitz all lost because of in-district issues, mostly personal. All of the outside election money merely made those issues more acute rather than making the elections a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker and the changes in collective bargaining privileges.

    In races that did not have those issues, the Republicans did well. State Sen. Alberta Darling even increased her margin of victory over her performance in 2010.

    But the final result remains. Despite all the outside money spent by both sides, despite the long, nasty negative campaigns, we’re still at the status quo. In National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation,” Clark Griswold wired up his home with enough Christmas lights to require sunglasses at night. But despite the expense and effort, the lights failed to go on. As a perplexed look of disappoint crossed his face, his mother-in-law announced to the kids, “I hope you kids see what a silly waste of resources this was.” Audrey replied, “He worked really hard, Grandma.” “So do washing machines,” was the reply from Audrey’s grandfather. Both sides wired up the Capitol, plugged in the lights and nothing happened. But they worked really hard.

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