• WisPolitics

Saturday, August 13, 2011

 8:40 AM 

12th District race falls in importance, but voters still engaged

ANTIGO -- Anne Pregler of Antigo intends to vote in Tuesday’s historic recall of a northern Wisconsin state senator -- if her job doesn’t take her from town too long. The 47-year-old traveling merchandiser said Friday she was still unsure how she would vote, but senses plenty of excitement around town and plenty of advocacy.

“We have phone calls at 9 at night wanting to know who you are voting for,” Pregler said as she filled up her car with $3.59-a-gallon gasoline. “It gets a little annoying. I still get three calls a day. There’s a lot of pressure, or enthusiasm.”

What could have been a dramatic election in District 12 for majority control of the state Senate has evaporated into a summertime referendum on Sen. Jim Holperin, a 60-year-old Democrat with a long resume in government and politics, and whether voters want him replaced with political newcomer Kim Simac, a 52-year-old tea party activist who organized the recall against him.

No matter the outcome of Holperin’s race, Republicans will keep control of the Senate, after GOP incumbents won four of six recalls last Tuesday and one Democrat was re-elected earlier. Republicans have pick-up opportunities both in Holperin’s district and the 22nd in southeastern Wisconsin. But most view the Northwoods race as the only truly competitive one.

Fred Berner, editor of the Antigo Daily Journal, said Tuesday’s results have taken “maybe some of the glow” from the Holperin recall, but interest remains high because of so much advertising in a district that’s very divided politically and because both candidates made personal stops to court voters.

“Despite the fact it won’t make a difference in Madison, it will make a difference in who represents us up in the Northwoods,” he said. “People are fiercely interested in what happens here.”

Talking to voters in the sprawling District 12 that covers all or parts of 11 mostly rural counties with small towns stretching from near Wausau to Marinette to Eagle River provides ample evidence that people remain interested in having a say in the political turmoil that has rocked the state.

Tammy Welch of Merrill says she’s coming off the political sidelines because of the recall. She didn’t vote the last time the Senate seat came up in November 2008, when Holperin narrowly won.

She promises to vote Tuesday.

“The only way we are going to make a difference is by voting, whether it is summertime, wintertime or whatever,” said Welch, a 47-year-old tax professional and school bus driver. “We got to make a difference somehow.”

A Simac campaign sign sprouted from her front lawn along a busy Merrill street, but Welch said she was just being kind in letting Republican supporters put it up.

Welch called herself an independent and hadn’t decided yet who to back on Tuesday.

Sure, she said, she hears a deluge of television commercials for both sides but doesn’t want to rely on them to make her decision.

“I probably won’t know until I get there,” the grandmother said, referring to the voting booth.

Jamie Packard, a 34-year-old lumber inspector from Antigo, said he was excited about the special election and the opportunity to vote for Simac.

“I am going to vote for somebody who doesn’t leave the state, somebody who stands up for people,” Packard said. “It is time for our government to start doing things the right way. If I ran away from my job, I would get fired.”

Holperin and 13 other Democratic senators fled to Illinois in February for three weeks to thwart passage of Walker’s anti-union budget repair bill, a move that ultimately failed to block passage of the legislation.

Holperin contends the move was responsible and gave the people of Wisconsin more time to consider Walker’s sweeping, anti-union changes.

Emmit Winchell, a 67-year-old retired janitor in Merrill, will vote Tuesday and wants Holperin to win even though Democrats can’t gain complete power in the Senate.

“They ain’t going to take over. I know that,” Winchell said. “But at least even it out somewhat. At least we can have a fighting chance.”

A barrage of TV commercials, many from special interest groups, portray Simac as a too extreme, irresponsible small business owner who hasn’t paid state income taxes in some years and Holperin as a budget-busting, tax-loving spender who’s responsible for the state’s economic woes.

“I am so tired of getting stuff in the mail that I just throw it in the garbage,” said Diana Downing, 49, of Antigo.

Paul Wagner, a 50-year-old engineer from Merrill, said last Tuesday’s recall results could dampen some enthusiasm in District 12, but not his. He doesn’t want one of the candidates, whom he wouldn’t name, to win.

“I want to make my opinion known,” he said before teeing off with three out-of-town friends for a round of golf at Merrill Country Club on Friday. “You can’t complain if you don’t vote.”

Don Heinzen, 82, of the tiny village of Phlox outside of Antigo, said people in District 12 were energized to vote before last Tuesday’s six recalls were settled and he expects that to hold through the special election.

He will vote for Simac, he said, but believes the attack ads on TV against her will hurt her chances of winning.

“People tend to believe what they hear,” he said. “They made her look bad with that tax situation and that book in China.”

He referred to hundreds of thousands of dollars in TV ads that portray Simac as paying no state income taxes in some recent years and for having a book printed in China.

“It’s too bad,” Heinzen said. “It seems like money is the thing that puts them in office, rather than their qualifications.”

Mike Turney, owner of Langlade Abstract and Title, allowed a sign supporting Holperin outside the title company alongside a busy Antigo street.

Turney said he will vote Tuesday to cast what he calls an anti-recall vote. No one should be recalled over policy issues, he said.

“I haven’t agreed with everything Mr. Holperin has done, but I hope he wins,” Turney said. “People I have talked to are just tired of the whole thing.”

-- By Robert Imrie
For WisPolitics.com


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