How Wisconsin Election Law Saved The GOP, And Why That Changes In 2012

From the moment he took office, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) seized every opportunity to reshape his state’s law to improve the GOP’s chances on election day. Walker stripped state workers of their right to organize in order to weaken a traditionally progressive constituency. He gutted the state’s public financing system, which allows candidates to run effective campaigns without pleading for money from big dollar donors, and used this money to pay for a voter ID law that that disenfranchises numerous elderly voters, young voters, students, minorities and low-income voters.

Yet it was not these attempts to un-level the playing field that saved Walker’s Senate majority in last night’s recall elections — where Democrats took two of the three seats they needed to flip control of the state senate. Rather, it was a longstanding quirk in Wisconsin law which protects elected officials from recalls during the first year of their term in office:

(s) No petition for recall of an officer may be offered for filing prior to the expiration of one year after commencement of the term of office for which the officer is elected.

In 2008, Barack Obama won a landslide victory for Wisconsin’s electoral votes, and Democrats rode a wave that allowed them to capture many elected offices that are typically out of their reach. In 2010, by contrast, economic discontent fueled a backlash against the incumbent party, and Republicans rode their own wave into various elected positions.

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For this reason, all of the Republican state senators who were eligible for recall in yesterday’s elections were Republicans who held on in 2008 despite the fact that they had to stand for election during a Democratic wave. Likewise, all of the Republicans who were elected in 2010 only because they were fortunate enough to run during a Republican wave were immune from recall. Come 2012, however, all of this changes.