The Recall State
How Wisconsin politics became a national model for partisanship and acrimony.
The Democrats didn't rush to file recall petitions. They built a campaign tactically and centrally. They started about a week later than the Republicans did and bought a Web site, RecalltheRepublican8.com. They staged recall campaigns from Democratic offices. Call, say, the campaign to recall Hopper, and you are put in touch with the Democratic Party's statewide office. The Democrats claim to have more people on the job and say they surged with volunteers after the Senate pushed through the budget repair bill without the Democrats in the room. They report $1 million raised since the fight started.
Democratic and union activists also provided this story with one of its more surreal moments: On Saturday, they swarmed outside the Fond du Lac home they believed was the residence of Hopper. A woman emerged from the house and told them two things. One: Hopper didn't live there. Two: She was his wife, Alysia; her husband, who filed for divorce last August, lived somewhere else with a mistress. After this incident—and responding to inquiries from an intrigued Wisconsin press corps—Alysia Hopper released more evidence that her estranged husband didn't live in his old house.
So far, at least, Republicans have not engaged in any home visits. In fact, unlike the state Democratic Party, state Republicans aren't even raising money for the recall efforts. "We're assisting them," said Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party. "They're largely Tea Party groups and conservative organizations, and we think they're at a little bit of a structural disadvantage compared to the unions."
The party is also "logging incidents" in which its members are "meeting resistance from union types who are crashing their rallies and not letting people sign their petitions," he said.
This can be busy work. On Tuesday the Recall Jim Holperin Committee, a group dedicated to ousting that Democratic senator, reported that protesters in the town of Merrill, Wis., had crashed their rally and ripped up petitions. "The policemen who were there," said organizers, "and who were standing in close proximity to these events as they unfolded, did nothing to assist those collecting the petitions as they were being destroyed."
Things are slightly calmer 160 miles to the south in Madison. It took till Wednesday, but Republicans agreed to forgive Democrats for their flight and not enforce a contempt order that barred them from voting. Democrats went back to work. But they also kept their eyes trained on the goal that one of them, Sen. Chris Larson, mused about in a tweet: "Have you chipped in to help the recall of Republican senators yet?" he asked.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Wisconsin portests by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.