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Democratic Party leaders say Harsdorf recall drive on track

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Organizers of a petition drive to force a recall election against state Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) say they expect to have no problem collecting more than the 15,744 signatures needed by May 2.

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A report filed Friday with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board shows the Committee to Recall Harsdorf has received $67,695 in donations and spent $67,156.

The amounts collected and spent on the Harsdorf drive are higher than the figures reported in any of the recall drives against 15 other state senators.

According to the report, the money has paid for office supplies, petition printing, cell phone service, "robo" surveying, office space and staff salaries, benefits and travel.

"I'm hearing that we're ahead of schedule," said Cathy Leaf, chairwoman of the St. Croix County Democratic Party. She said she assumes canvassers in the district, which includes parts of five counties, have collected over half the signatures they need.

"But I have no hard numbers to put a number to that," said Leaf.

"There are a lot of individuals and groups (collecting signatures). There's a lot of stuff out there that I don't know about," said Bob Ebert, co-chairman of the Pierce County Democratic Party, who also had no estimates.

He said teachers and other groups besides party workers are circulating petitions, and what he has been hearing is that everything is on track.

Roy Sjoberg, the Hudson man who registered the recall committee, said Monday that he has been out of town and hasn't caught up on petition progress.

Leaf said the petition drive, which was already doing well, gained momentum with the announcement Friday that La Crosse area Democrats have gathered enough signatures to force a recall election for Republican Senator Dan Kapanke.

In the 10th District, the Democratic Party has over 200 people circulating petitions and "doing visibility" by either going door-to-door or manning petition stations, said Leaf.

"We're going to keep going and get the signatures of all the people that want to sign," said Leaf. She said she expects signatures will be collected up to the deadline.

"There are people that are very motivated to sign the petition," said Leaf of the response canvassers have gotten. "They know generally what you're there for, and they're grabbing the petitions and signing them.

Early on, before the drive was fully organized, she had people drive as much as an hour to her house to sign the petitions, added Leaf. Now the recall committee is collecting signatures at 901 Fourth St., Suite 260, Hudson, and at 109 N. Main St., River Falls.

The Democrats don't have a candidate selected to run against Harsdorf should the petition drive be successful, but are considering likely persons, said Leaf.

"We have several people that are interested in running, and we're talking to all of them right now," she said.

Harsdorf herself has launched a website, www.standwithsheila.com, and is seeking donations for her counter-campaign.

"I am a target for recall because I stood up against the special interests and supported reform," wrote Harsdorf in a letter to prospective donors. "I defended Wisconsin taxpayers and fought for balanced budgets. Now in an unprecedented recall effort, they want to undo last fall's elections."

She added, "Wisconsin is broke and taxpayers are stretched thin. That is why I supported the budget repair bill that requires government employees to contribute a modest amount to their pension plan and health insurance premiums. To change how government does business, we needed to overhaul collective bargaining laws blocking reform.

"Without these reforms, taxpayers and future generations will have to pay more and more to keep up with runaway spending. Having lost the vote in the state Senate, the public employee unions and their national special interest allies are resorting to 'any means necessary' to overturn last November's election."

Committees have registered to initiate recall elections against Republican senators Harsdorf, Kapanke, Robert Cowles, Alberta Darling, Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper, Glenn Grothman and Mary Lazich and Democratic senators Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, Mark Miller, Robert Wirch, Fred Risser, Julia Lassa, Lena Taylor and Dave Hansen.

The only senators eligible for recall are those who have been in office for over a year. The number of signatures needed to trigger a recall is one-quarter the number of votes cast in the individual district during the last gubernatorial election.

Under Wisconsin law, the 60-day signature-collection period is followed by 31 days during which signatures can be challenged, defended and reviewed. If enough signatures are declared valid, an election is set for six weeks later.

The incumbent officeholder doesn't have to file for that election, but challengers do. If more than one challenger in the same party files, the first election serves as the party primary, followed four weeks later by a general election.

Wisconsin's normal fundraising rules apply during the election phase. But during the petition phase, individuals can give unlimited amounts to either the incumbents or those trying to recall them.

That money can be used only for or against the signature drive. It can't be used in the subsequent election campaign.

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Judy Wiff
Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.
(715) 426-1049
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