James Smith thinks Wisconsin law makes it too easy to recall a sitting legislator. And he’s willing to spend taxpayer dollars to protest it.
Smith, a self-described libertarian Republican and former officer of the La Crosse County GOP, will be on the ballot Tuesday alongside Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Shilling in a bid to challenge Sen. Dan Kapanke. He is one of six fake Democrats across the state running as part of a GOP strategy to delay recalls until August.
County clerks estimate the partisan primary will cost taxpayers in the 32nd Senate district about $117,000, the same as the Aug. 9 recall election. Smith hopes his candidacy draws attention to Wisconsin’s laws.
“If by me doing this they change the recall laws … that will save millions of dollars for the state of Wisconsin,” he said. “Yes, it’s costly, but in the long run it will cost a lot less.”
Smith, a 25-year-old hospital technician, says the number of signatures to trigger a recall should equal the number of votes the office holder received in the last election. Current law requires one quarter of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.
“The whole reason I’m doing this — the bar is too low,” Smith said. “It could very well be that we’re recalling people all the time now.”
Wisconsin’s recall laws are among the most restrictive in the nation, said Joshua Spivak, who studies recall elections and writes about them on The Recall Election blog. The number of required signatures is relatively high, Spivak said, while the 60-day window to gather them is shorter than most.
“Wisconsin has a relatively high voter requirement,” he said. “It’s interesting that that’s the state that’s taking off.”
Kapanke is one of nine state senators — six Republicans and three Democrats — who face recall elections for their responses to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s bill to eliminate most collective bargaining for public workers. The bill sparked weeks of protests at the Capitol this spring, and Democratic senators fled to Illinois in an attempt to stall it.