Republicans call them “protest” candidates.
Democrats call them “placeholder” candidates.
Whatever they are called, these candidates from both parties in the state Senate recall elections have no intention of being elected.
On June 5, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on letters sent out by Republican Party leaders encouraging “fellow conservatives” to collect signatures to place fake Democratic candidates in the Senate recall races.
In the 14th Senate District, where Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, faces a recall challenge from Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, Sauk County Republican Party Chairman Tim McCumber and Waupaca County Republican Party Chairman Fred Zaug sent a letter to conservatives urging them to support Rol Church’s efforts to get on the Democratic ballot.
“We can’t stress enough how important it is to have Rol on the ballot to combat the shady maneuvers of Madison liberals and their out-of-state allies,” McCumber and Zaug wrote in the June 3 letter.
Church, a Wautoma retiree, has a history of donating to Republican candidates. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which posts political contributions online, Church donated nearly $1,700 to GOP candidates between 1996 and 2010. He also donated $200 to Swift Boat Veterans, a group that targeted Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004.
Church did not immediately return a call to the County Post to comment on his entry into the Senate recall race.
“The liberal special interests are pumping tens of millions of dollars into our state to recall six republican senators, including our own Senator Luther Olsen,” the June 3 GOP letter said. “They are forcing taxpayers to pay for these unjustified recall elections because Republicans are reversing their tax and spend agenda.”
By placing another “Democratic” candidate on the ballot, the Republicans are seeking to force the July 12 elections to be primaries rather than general elections, which would be held on Aug. 9.
The Journal Sentinel reported that the additional election would cost taxpayers more than $420,000 statewide. In the 14th Senate District alone, the recall primary will cost $60,200.
After news of Republican plans to run fake candidates broke, McCumber responded on the Sauk County GOP website with a post in support of Church’s candidacy.
“Rol Church is a real person and has volunteered to launch a campaign to run as a democrat in protest of Mr. Clark’s run,” McCumber wrote. “I support his reason for running. He opposes unseating Senator Olsen for reporting to work.”
Clark responded to the news of a Republican spoiler candidate in the Democratic primary by accusing Olsen and Republicans of using “dirty tricks.”
“At taxpayer expense, Luther Olsen is going to force a sham primary – all while he and Scott Walker are gutting funding to SeniorCare and attempting to privatize our schools,” Clark wrote. “He has turned his back on the people he represents, choosing instead to support the divisive, extreme agenda of Scott Walker and the party bosses in Madison.”
“The rationale is to give our state senators more time to get their word out and defend themselves, which a primary would give them,” Zaug told the County Post Monday.
Zaug reiterated that a primary would give Olsen more time to campaign, adding that the incumbent senator has been busy helping write a budget bill.
He is also confident that Republicans will maintain their majority in the state Senate.
“Our base is pretty energized and we will get our people out to vote,” Zaug said.
Last year, Republicans were outraged when Democrats ran a sham Republican against state Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, of Manitowoc, a Democrat who switched to become an Independent. Republican Party Executive Director Mark Jefferson called it a “nasty, cynical ploy” organized by unions and the Democratic Party.
Recognizing the similarity between what Democrats did in 2010 and what Republicans are doing in 2011, Zaug noted, “Similar language came out of the Democratic Party when we put up these protest candidates.”
Democrats are now concerned that Republicans may run some of their fake candidates, but not others, as some sort of political ploy. So they are now running their own fake candidates, not as Republicans, but as “placeholders” to ensure that all six recall elections against Republican senators take place on the same date.
According to Pat DuChene, who chairs the Waupaca County Democratic Party, Robert Forseth, of Waupaca, is considering a bid to be the Democratic Party’s fake candidate in the 14th Senate District.
“We have heard that Republicans may try to manipulate the election process by targeting specific districts. At the last minute, they could choose not to file Rol Church’s nomination papers. Then the 14th District would be the only district in the state not holding a primary,” DuChene said.
DuChene said Forseth’s intention is not to run against Clark in the Democratic primary, but to ensure that all the Senate districts with recall elections hold primaries and general elections on the same dates.
DuChene also noted that the Democratic “placeholder” candidates are running as Democrats and not as Republicans.
She believes the Republican strategy is to stretch out the recall process in order to have more time to enact Walker’s agenda.
As the County Post went to press Tuesday, Forseth was still uncertain whether he would file nominating papers to be placed on the ballot. He had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file his papers in Madison.
“I am concerned for the integrity of the election,” Forseth said. “The Republicans have set it up for themselves to pull out their spoiler candidates from the some of the races so they can focus their resources on the other races.”
Forseth said Democrats were unwilling to run as Republicans against Olsen or any of the other Republican senators facing recalls.
“We don’t feel we should interfere in someone else’s political party,” Forseth said. “It’s like going into someone else’s home and telling them how to arrange their furniture.”
Forseth, a recent law school graduate who is preparing to take a bar exam in July, said he would prefer that there were no spoiler candidates from either party and that the general recall election could be held on July 12. But he does not want to allow Republicans to manipulate the election dates.
“It may be legal, but it’s not right,” Forseth said. “It hurts democracy.”