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Drive to recall Harsdorf starts

State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (right) is confronted by Somerset teacher Lorri Baillargeon as she tries to leave the Hudson House after speaking briefly to a gathering sponsored by Americans For Prosperity. In between in the background is Hudson Police Chief Marty Jensen.

A petition drive to force a recall election for State Senator Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, has already collected several hundred signatures, says a Hudson man who registered the recall committee.

"It's getting organized and gathering momentum," said Roy Sjoberg, an estate planning and probate attorney with the Woodbury, Minn., firm of Sjoberg & Tebelius.

Sjoberg said while petitioners need 15,744 signatures from 10th Senate District voters to force a recall vote, they're aiming for 20,000, anticipating Republicans will challenge many signatures.

The group has 60 days to collect the signatures. The clock on that deadline started March 2, the date the recall committee registered its intent with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.

"We're just trying to find out the best way of going about this," said Sjoberg.

He said St. Croix and Pierce Democratic Party leaders were meeting Monday evening in Hudson to work on strategy. They want to be sure all those collecting signatures are properly trained in the process.

Sjoberg said the group hopes to "capture the energy we have seen in the streets" recently to generate enough signatures. They already have about 100 people circulating petitions.

"(The recall drives against Republicans are) a very organized effort by special interests to basically maintain the status quo," said Harsdorf Monday.

Last November voters sent a clear message to lawmakers: Cut government spending, get the state's fiscal house in order and stop "using the credit card," she said, adding, "Special interests will go to any extent to try and stop what basically the voters have asked us to do."

Harsdorf said lawmakers were elected to make tough choices: "We knew it wouldn't be easy."

"The reason for the recall is there seems to be a complete breakdown in communications in Madison," said Sjoberg.

He said it appears Republicans are "overreaching" what needs to be done to correct the state's financial problems, and that Harsdorf, in particular, is not interested in speaking with teachers and others directly affected by the budget-repair bill.

Sjoberg said he has had no luck reaching Harsdorf by phone and has had no response to at least three e-mails he sent. Recently, he said, phone calls to her office aren't answered and go directly to a mailbox that is already full.

"That's frustrating," said Sjoberg.

Committees have also registered to initiate recall elections against Republican senators Robert Cowles, Alberta Darling, Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich and Dan Kapanke and Democratic senators Spencer Coggs, Jim Holperin, Mark Miller, Robert Wirch, Fred Wisser 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 for governor in the individual district during the last gubernatorial election.

Under state 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, that 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.

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