Suspicious Minds: Will There Be a Special Session in Wisconsin?

Two things will happen today in steamy Wisconsin, where temperatures are set to break 95. One election will be certified, while another will be recounted. The confluence of events have some wondering if a window of opportunity has been created to allow the Wisconsin GOP to pull a fast one.

Recount Buys the GOP Some Time

First, the election of Rep. Jerry Petrowski (R-Stettin) to the Wisconsin Senate is scheduled to be certified by the state elections board today. Petrowski, who has served in the Assembly for a number of years, won the June 5 special election to replace Republican Senator Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) when she stepped down under the threat of recall earlier this year. The moment the election is certified, Petrowski will be eligible to be sworn in as the state's newest senator. Today, his office was being coy about when and where he will be sworn in.

Also today, a recount will begin in the southeast corner of the state for a seat won on June 5 by Democrat John Lehman. Lehman challenged sitting Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) in a Senate recall election that swung control of the Wisconsin Senate from Republican to Democratic, putting a halt to the legislature's extreme ALEC-inspired agenda. Even though Lehman won by 1.2 percent, Van Wanggaard waited ten days before calling for a recount and GOP leaders immediately started throwing around vague allegations of voter fraud. Canvassers will begin a costly recount today that the Van Wanggaard campaign will have to pay for.

Many were surprised that Van Wanggaard took on the expense of a recount given that an 835 vote margin is highly unlikely to be overturned. Recounts primarily relying on electronic voting machines usually result in only a handful of corrections. The recount, which is anticipated to take about eight days, leaves Van Wanggaard as the district's senator until the election is officially certified by the state elections board.

Will the GOP Call a Special Session to Strip Wisconsinites of their Recall Powers?

These events leave many inside the Capitol with suspicious minds wondering. With a new senator sworn in and a recount underway leaving Van Wanggaard an acting senator, there is a brief, eight day window of opportunity for a special session of the legislature. With Van Wanggaard and Petrowski there will be 17 Republican senators and 16 Democratic senators.

Governor Scott Walker or leaders of the Senate and Assembly could call a special session on any topic. A redo of the discredited mining bill? A repeal of the people's constitutional right to recall? Enshrine voter ID in the constitution now that it has been struck down as unconstitutional? Who knows what the creative minds in the legislature may come up with and what deals could be cut to convince more moderate legislators to go along with the crowd.

My bet? They will try to go after the recall provisions, because time is of the essence. The trials of four former Walker staff and associates on charges of embezzlement and political corruption start this fall. More charges are anticipated. If Walker is implicated in the alleged crimes or charged, no one in the state will even remember they ever voted to keep him in office when close to a million people petitioned for his recall. Remember how Nixon was elected in a landslide in '72, then no one recalled voting for him as soon as the Watergate story broke?

Dave Zweifel in today's Capital Times cautions Republicans that their anti-recall fervor may come back to haunt them: "The reaction to the recall against Walker and several state senators reminds me a bit of the near hysteria that followed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt's four terms as president. That so alarmed Republicans that they succeeded in amending the U.S. Constitution to limit any future president to two terms. That came back to haunt them, though, when popular Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower had to step down after his second term and it particularly became a matter of remorse when conservative hero Ronald Reagan had to quit after eight years."

More Brats Anyone?

The temperature may be heating up in the state, but if I were Mark Miller (D-Monona), the Democratic Senator Majority Leader-in-waiting, I would fire up that grill and start sizzling those brats for the few independent thinking Republicans in the legislature. Legislators like Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah), who put a stop to the Senate Majority Leader's plans to keep Democrats from voting in committee, or Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), who put the brakes on an extreme mining bill that would have stripped the state of critical protections against mining pollution.

And let's not forget that a few Democrats might be worried about being recalled themselves and could be convinced to join the mob. Stayed tuned. Many legislators are on vacation and may not be convinced that more sturm und drang is what is needed in the state right now.

The public can go to the Racine County Courthouse, 730 Wisconsin Ave., to watch the recount, but they will have to sign in and out and can not bring purses, brief cases, pencils, black pens or blue pens into the room.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is a reporter for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation and is a two-time recipient of the Sidney Prize for public interest journalism from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.


Wouldn't it take two consecutive votes of the legislature passing a voter ID resolution and then a subsequent popular vote by the people to enshrine voter ID in our state constitution? The ACLU of Wisconsin also has a pending federal lawsuit to challenge the voter ID law even if the state court actions fail.

Same with changing the right of recall, since it's in the Constitution - passing two consecutive sessions and then getting put on the ballot. It's not unlikely that they'll try something, but if they actually follow how things are supposed to work, they can't do much.

In response to anonymous, they could pass a constitutional amendment in June 2012, possibly again in January 2013 if they win another Senate seat, and have it ready for a ballot in short order. This does not seem far fetched at to me.

they will do what ever it takes to strip away any rights the people have to suit themselvs. they wll lie cheat and steal. all we can do at this point is hope that a couple of repubs won't go along with them for fear of their seats. the more they pull the more eyes that will open. right now i cannot believe that wisconsin has sdo many stupid people. but they will wise up when the bill comes due and they find out walker borrowed the money and used the cr\eadit card, and that he paid off nothing except his rich supporters and has stuck us with the bill

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