Wisconsin voters will choose among real and fake Democrats this week to challenge six Republican senators in recall elections that may derail the agenda of Governor Scott Walker. The primaries are the opening skirmish in a state at political war. The six districts in tomorrow’s races have Republicans running as Democrats, hoping to win the nomination and effectively render the Aug. 9 recall votes meaningless.
At a time when politics usually takes a break, voters will select candidates to run against Republicans who supported Walker’s efforts to curb collective-bargaining rights for most public employees. On July 19, there will be two primaries and a full-fledged recall aimed at Democratic senators who fled the state in February in hopes of blocking the measure, which touched off weeks of protests across the nation.
“It feels like madness abounds in our state, like Wisconsin is 65,000 square miles surrounded by sanity,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit that advocates openness in government. “We’re just living in a really weird time,” McCabe added in a telephone interview from Madison, the capital.
State election law allows open primaries, which means that voters can participate regardless of partisan affiliation. It also allows members of one party to enter another’s primary with what McCabe called “fake candidacies.”
“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he said.
The cross-party candidates have imparted a sideshow element to a fight that is unprecedented and carries clear implications for Wisconsin’s governance. The August recalls may tip the balance of the Republican-controlled Senate to the Democrats, who need a net gain of three seats to control the chamber and be able to block Walker’s legislative agenda.
The state’s nine legislative recall elections compare with a total of 20 across the nation since 1913, according to Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York. Wisconsin has had two.
“I’m sort of happy about this because this shows people that politics is about things that affect people’s lives,” said Mordechai Lee, a professor of government affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “On the other hand, I’m sad for Wisconsin because this is all the wrong kind of politics.”