Wisconsin OKs recall elections for GOP Sens. Randy Hopper, Luther Olsen, Dan Kapanke

MADISON — The Wisconsin board that oversees elections gave the final approval to three recall petitions targeting three GOP senators, making it all but certain that those senators will face recall elections this summer.

The Government Accountability Board rejected the challenges made to recall petitions targeting Republican Sens. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and Luther Olsen of Ripon. They also voted to file paperwork by June 3 that will allow elections to be called for July 12.

Eric McLeod, the attorney for the senators, had argued that there was no proof that the people who filed the initial paperwork for the recall efforts were actually members of the recall committees that registered with the state. The GAB requires those who wish to file a recall petition to file campaign finance registration forms with the board and file a statement of intent to circulate the petitions. While all three petitions included both forms, McLeod said the petitioners’ names don’t appear on both forms.

“Simply because they could have formed a committee doesn’t mean they did,” McLeod said.

Jeremy Levinson, the attorney for all three committees, said the statement of intent was attached to the registration form in all three cases, and it was clear that the petitioners were members of their respective recall committees. GAB attorney Shane Falk agreed with that assessment.

While the board voted 5-1 to have staff review the registration forms used for recalls, it unanimously rejected the GOP challenges and found each petition sufficient with almost no discussion. While some challenges to individual signatures were accepted, each petition had thousands more than the minimum required.

McLeod said he disagreed with the board, but “respects their decision.” He said he and his clients have not yet discussed whether the senators will challenge the decision in court.

Even if they do, a lawsuit isn’t likely to delay the recall elections, Levinson said.

The three senators are among nine lawmakers, six Republicans and three Democrats, targeted for recalls for their positions on GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal taking away collective bargaining rights from most state workers. Republicans were targeted for supporting the bill, while the Democrats were targeted for leaving the state for three weeks in an ultimately vain attempt to block passage of the bill. The law is tied up in court and has not yet gone into effect.

Democrats are pushing the recalls as a way to gain majority control of the Senate, which they lost in the fall 2010 election. Democrats need to pick up three seats to gain a majority.

Republicans currently control both houses of the Legislature, providing Walker with a clear path to passing his legislative agenda.

The other Republican lawmakers facing recall elections are Sens. Robert Cowles of Allouez, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls and Alberta Darling of River Hills. Democrats facing recalls are Sens. Dave Hansen of Green Bay, Robert Wirch of Pleasant Prairie and Jim Holperin of Conover. The legal challenges for the other three GOP petitions are identical and will likely be dismissed as well.

Democrats also have challenged the validity of the petitions targeting their senators, alleging that out-of-state circulators hired by Republicans committed widespread fraud and misrepresentation in collecting the signatures.

The board plans to evaluate all remaining challenges at its May 31 meeting, and likely would certify all the petitions that same week if challenges are dismissed.