Wisconsin Recall Elections: Winners and Losers

By YeOldeScribe ~ September 13th, 2011 @ 12:19 am

As much as we hate to do it, everyone wants to know who “won” and who “lost” whenever something major happens in politics. The simple – and usually truthful – answer is that things aren’t so black and white. In most instances, there is no clear winner or loser, or there’s no one winner and one loser. Most people are quick to assume that since there’s two parties, one has to win and the other must lose. But people forget to include themselves (the citizens), and they also to forget to include their state as a whole (we’ve sometimes called this things like “democracy” or “America”). Today, we’ll take a quick look at the Democrats, Republicans and the state as a whole, looking at how each fared. But do keep in mind that we’re not saying that one side clearly came out ahead – there’s different aspects that were good for both parties just as other aspects were not so good. No one came out smelling like roses, but no one was covered in manure, either.


Everyone and their mother was so quick to jump on the Democrats, saying that because they didn’t re-take control of the Senate, they “lost”. But let’s take a closer look at that before we consider their efforts a failure. First, let’s not discount the fact that the Dems essentially went 5 for 9 when it came to the recalls (if you include the seats they retained, which you should). That’s higher than a 50% success rate. In baseball, you’d get into the hall of fame with those numbers. And in politics, better than 50% is the magic number. Convince more than 50% of people that you’re the right candidate? That wins elections. Control more than 50% of the legislature? Your party owns it. Don’t discount their successes just because they didn’t get everything they wanted.

Others are discounting the wins, saying that they were in Democratic strongholds, or that Sen. King almost won the election the last time, or that the candidates against some of the Democrats were weak. First, we’ll flat-out disagree that any of the districts were in “Democratic Strongholds”. None of these elections were in inner-city Milwaukee or Madison, which are the only real Democratic bastions in Wisconsin. At best these were contests in Democratic-leaning districts, but even that’s a stretch. And yes, it’s very true that Sen. King was less than 200 votes away from winning her previous election. But the important thing is she lost then, and now she won – and by way more than 200 votes. So in just a relatively short amount of time, the people in her district kicked her out, then brought her back because her replacement wasn’t doing a good enough job. No one would have criticized John Gard had he won his election against Steve Kagen in 2008 because he almost beat Kagen in 2006, so why the double standard? We’re also big fans of the last argument – that the Democrats’ victory is somehow tainted because the candidates the Republicans put up weren’t that great. How is this the Democrats’ fault? Why should their victory mean anything less because the best the Republicans could come up with was a guy who cheats the government out of money and beats the crap out of his wife?

So in those respects, yes, the Democrats “won”. But they also “lost” because their goal was clearly to re-take control of the Senate, which they were not able to do. There’s no denying that fact. While we’re not going to slap the “loser” label on the Dems, we’re also not going to pretend that they flat-out won. Instead, look at it like they were able to accomplish a lot of what they sought to do, but they didn’t get everything they wanted. Does that make them winners or losers? We’d like to think it makes them both. Did they win more than they lost? That’s a tough question. If you backed us into a corner and forced us to declare the Dems winners or losers, we’d have to say that they “lost” because they weren’t able to achieve their main objective. But that view is so myopic it’s useless, and doesn’t take into consideration all that the Dems were able to accomplish.


In our esteemed and humble opinion, this is the easiest one to call. The Republicans lost.

First, let’s not forget that the whole reason we had to have these recalls was that people were so fed up with the actions of Republican legislators that they were willing to spend taxpayer monies in an attempt to overthrow the government and install competent leaders in the Senate. Many citizens were willing to admit that they made a mistake entrusting the running of the government to the Repubs, and were willing to cross party lines (and again, spend their own taxpayer money) in an attempt to rectify that mistake. This shouldn’t be overlooked, but it has been in mainstream media. The fact that these recalls even got off the ground was a very troubling sign for Republicans – but the worst news was yet to come.

Second, before the recalls even got started the Republicans ran into problems. First, the Republicans were only able to secure three recall elections compared to the Democrat’s six. Why is that significant? The Repubs were claiming that the Democrats were doing something illegal by leaving the state, that they were dodging their responsibilities as Senators. That’s a pretty serious allegation. Meanwhile, the Dems were claiming that the Republicans were doing their job by passing legislation – but legislation they didn’t like. In short, Republicans had a lot more ammo to motivate their base with, but they couldn’t do it. Strike one.

Strike two came when candidates were being chosen and petitions were being filed. The Republicans had their candidate picked out to take out Dave Hansen, who was viewed as vulnerable and susceptible to a recall. In fact, the Republicans were able to get somewhere in the area of 19,000 signatures to force a recall. But then, the candidate they wanted to run against Hansen – John Nygren – couldn’t even amass 400 signatures to get his name on the final ballot. Instead, they were left to run someone with “domestic violence issues, allegations of child abuse, property tax issues, and general issues with the English language” (according to our friends at Blogging Blue).

Strike three was the  several instances of alleged fraud with the Republican’s recall election efforts. The Republicans were proved to have committed 32 different forms of election fraud (pdf), which caused the GAB to initially put the breaks on all the recall efforts by the GOP.

Second, the Republicans lost two Senate seats and gained none. That’s huge. In districts that Republicans won not more than four years ago, they now suffered sound defeats. And even more than that, of the Democrats that were targeted for recall, most won by even more comfortable margins then they did when they faced off against Republicans in the previous elections. The message was clear: Republicans aren’t doing the job the people of Wisconsin want them to do.

Sure, they were able to retain the Senate by the thinnest of margins. But that wasn’t their objective. Their goal was to have something they could hang their hat on. Something that would enable them to claim a victory; something that showed that the people had their back. Instead, they were slapped in the face. Just because the Dems weren’t able to completely immobilize their party doesn’t mean that the Repubs can claim they one. In a year of big lies by the GOP, that might be the most atrocious one yet.

The State of Wisconsin

Everyone was quick here to say that the only real loser was the people that make up our great state. In some ways, we agree with that statement – but probably not for the reasons most people think.

If Wisconsin “lost” in this recall election, it’s only because there was a lack of clarity from the voters. Yes, it was clear that the Republicans weren’t doing things right. But because only two recalls were successful, the Senate still belonged to the Republicans. So what the state said was “We’re pissed at you, but we can’t do anything major about it.” If three recalls had been successful, the message would have been very clear. And if none were, the message would have been clear the other way. But instead, a mixed message was sent. This is mostly due to districting and the fact that not every candidate could be recalled, a problem the Repubs are quickly remedying in the most corrupt way possible.

Most people are saying that Wisconsin “lost” because so much money was “wasted” on these elections. But was the money wasted? We don’t think so. And for the constituents of the two Senate districts under new leadership, the money was definitely not wasted. Not only is it listed in our state constitution that people have a right to these recall elections, it’s a moral responsibility. People familiar with social contract theory know that if the governed are not being represented by the government, they have the responsibility to overthrow that government. Because people give up so many rights and privileges to the government, if that body isn’t representative of the people, then the people need to replace it with a government that is. So did the citizens of districts that had unsuccessful recall elections waste money? No, that’s not true either. Those citizens decided that they wanted to have a recall, and then those that voted got their voice heard. They weren’t examples of “wasteful spending” or “liberal excess” as Repbus have claimed. When the ruling party is claiming that allowing citizen participation in democracy is wasteful spending, it’s a sure sign that the ruling party shouldn’t be ruling for much longer.

In the end, there’s no clear “winner” or “loser”. The people of Wisconsin won the most by having their voice heard, and the Democrats won a lot too. But they both lost much, as did the Republicans. The only thing we can safely say for sure is that this debate is never-ending, and that by taking an honest look at the situation, we probably haven’t made anyone happy.

Such is politics in 2011.

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