Five months to the day after the Republican majority in the Wisconsin State Senate voted to approve Governor Scott Walker’s plan to strip most collective bargaining rights from public employees, two of the governor’s most prominent allies in the chamber have been removed from office.
Western Wisconsin State Senator Dan Kapanke and eastern Wisconsin Senator Randy Hopper were both defeated in recall elections that provided a powerful indication of the state’s anger with Governor Walker’s assault on worker rights.
Running in districts that were drawn to elect Republicans, that have consistently elected Republicans for generations, and that all backed Walker last November, the Democrats scored a pair of historic victories. “Six months ago no one would have ever expected we would be where we are tonight. The people of Wisconsin have made history,” said Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller. “Democrats, moderates, independents and even Republicans fought back against the radical Walker overreach that attacked core Wisconsin values. We fought on Republican turf and added two Democrats to the State Senate.
The Democrats did not take control of the Senate from the Republicans Tuesday, as labor, farm and community activists—who filled the streets of the state’s capitol, city, Madison, and other communities with mass protests in February and March—had hoped would be the case. While Kapanke was defeated by Democratic challenger Jennifer Shilling and Hopper was defeated by Democrat Jess King, three other Republican incumbents who were forced into recall races—Rob Cowles in the Green Bay area, Luther Olsen in the center of the state and Sheila Harsdorf in the northwest—prevailed against their Democratic challengers.
A fourth Republican incumbent, Alberta Darling, who has for many years represented a suburban Milwaukee district, was declared the victor over Democrat Sandy Pasch early Wednesday morning after a messy count that saw controversial Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus, a Republican stalwart, fail to report the results until late in the evening. Nickolaus stirred a national outcry in April, when she reported two days after a hotly contested state Supreme Court election that she had discovered more than 7,000 additional votes for the candidate favored by the GOP and Governor Walker. And her delays Tuesday night led Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate to complain at one point in the evening that “the race to determine control of the Wisconsin Senate has fallen in the hands of the Waukesha County clerk, who has already distinguished herself as incompetent, if not worse.“