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Friday, April 29, 2011

 11:51 AM 

Judge approves GAB plan for certifying recall elections

A Dane County judge today approved the Government Accountability Board's plan for certifying recall elections, a move that could allow the agency to hold eight of them July 12.

Judge John Markson turned back a Dem motion to require the agency to certify the recalls against Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke ahead of the others since they had been turned in first.

Markson said the GAB met its burden to show good cause to extend the recall certification deadlines, saying the weight of dealing with eight recall petitions at the same time "makes it a very, very difficult, if not impossible thing to achieve within the statutory deadline."

Under the proposed order, the GAB would meet May 23 to consider the petitions filed against Sens. Dan Kapanke, R-LaCrosse, Randy Hopper, R-Oshkosh, and Luther Olsen, R-Ripon. The board would hold a second meeting May 31 to consider the petitions filed against Sens. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, and Jim Holperin, D-Cononver.

The filings of sufficiency or insufficiency for each recall petition would be filed between May 31 and June 3, which would clear the way for all of them to be held July 12, pending any legal challenges of the board's findings.

A ninth recall petition filed Thursday against Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, was not considered under the order today and a potential election would likely be held after July 12, GAB Director Kevin Kennedy said.

Jeremy Levinson, attorney for the Dem senators and the committees to recall the GOP lawmakers, sought to compel the GAB to certify the recalls of Hopper and Kapanke at its regularly scheduled May 17 meeting. He said organizers of those recalls deliberately submitted petitions with statutory deadlines in mind, in an effort to "make sure voters had the opportunity to choose their Senate representation while the issues of the day are fresh in their minds."

"I think we ask very little here, your honor," Levinson said. "I think the stakes are substantial."

Lewis Beilin, attorney for the GAB, argued that the spring election follow-up, state Supreme Court recount and unprecedented level of recall petitions have placed extraordinary demands on the agency, and that "like never before, good cause exists to extend these deadlines."

Beilin also argued that the board staff must have adequate time to consider all challenges to the recall petitions -- both to signatures and other legal issues -- and suggested that the public and local officials would be better served by consolidating elections.

"It makes no sense to have a rolling series of recall elections," Beilin said.

Markson said he was not basing his decision on the policy of when to hold recall elections, but instead on the demands now placed on the GAB.

Kennedy said the decision allows all parties involved to "make sure the petitions get the attention and the time that they're entitled to." Kennedy and GAB attorneys also rejected Levinson's argument that incumbents in the GOP majority would inherently benefit from the delay, saying the decision affords more time to campaign for all candidates involved.

Speaking after the hearing, Levinson charged that Kapanke and Hopper "just got an extra lease on life for awhile," particularly as lawmakers consider controversial subjects such as voter ID. But he predicted the decision would not affect the outcome of the recall elections.

"My optimism is not dimmed that we will see a new Wisconsin state Senate," Levinson said.

-- By Andy Szal

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