Voter wrath has led to the first of many steps to replace the veteran Republican legislator.
State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, who has represented western Wisconsin for more than two decades, has become among the first legislators to feel voter backlash over Gov. Scott Walker's contentious budget-slashing efforts.
The River Falls Republican this week became the fourth state senator to face a petition for a recall election filed with the state's Government Accountability Board. Names are still being collected on four other petitions seeking to recall Republican state senators. Eight Democrats among the 14 who fled Wisconsin during the budget debate also are being targeted.
Under Wisconsin's recall system, voters can petition for a new election if they get signatures from 25 percent of the vote for governor in the latest election. In Harsdorf's 10th District, 15,744 signatures were needed but more than 23,000 people signed, said Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.
The number of signatures and the speed with which they were gathered show the depth of dissatisfaction among some voters over Harsdorf's support for Walker, a fellow Republican. A sharp curtailing of collective-bargaining rights for government workers became a political flashpoint.
"She's known as a nice person, she shows up at the parades, at the local events," Zielinski said. "But they don't know her voting record -- nobody really knows that she's marched in lock step with this extremist Republican agenda."
But Nathan Duerkop, a Harsdorf spokesman, said the petition effort is motivated by opportunists looking to undo last fall's election, when Republicans took control of the statehouse and the governor's office on promises to put the state in fiscal order.
"People in the 10th District see through this," Duerkop said. "She's standing up for what she believes in, and for what they sent her to Madison to do."
Harsdorf has served in the Wisconsin Legislature since 1988. After serving in the Assembly, she was elected to the Senate in 2000 and re-elected twice.
Her sprawling 10th District runs across five counties from north of Grantsburg to south of Ellsworth and hugs the Minnesota border. As such, she plays a key role in issues of mutual interest to Minnesota and Wisconsin and is chairwoman of the Senate committee handling those issues. Last week, for example, she came to Stillwater to advocate for a new bridge over the St. Croix River.
In the next step of the recall process, the signatures gathered on the petitions must be verified within 31 days.
The Government Accountability Board would then set an election date, and candidates would file for election.
Courts could get involved at any step along the way.
One point Duerkop and Zieleinski agreed on: It's going to be an interesting summer in Wisconsin politics.
Jim Anderson • 651-735-0999