MADISON, Wis. — The state Assembly's assistant minority leader and two former legislators said Tuesday they'll challenge three Republican state senators should recall elections materialize this year.
The announcements from Donna Seidel, Kristin Dexter and John Lehman draw the battle lines as Democrats try to use the recalls to retake the majority in the Wisconsin Senate. Republicans currently hold only a one-vote margin in the chamber, which means only one Democratic challenger must prevail to flip the house.
"I know that these three candidates will run ambitious, top-notch campaigns that will make Wisconsinites in their districts proud to have their representation," State Senate Democratic Committee executive director Zac Kramer said.
Republicans quickly pounced on the three challengers, accusing them of helping raise taxes by billions of dollars and mismanaging the state into a $3.6 billion deficit. They noted voters ousted Dexter and Lehman during a Republican surge in November 2010.
"Running retread candidates is exactly what we hoped the Democratic Party would do, because their failed tax-and-spend records will provide stark contrasts to our senators' records of fiscal responsibility and pro-jobs leadership," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said in a statement.
The Senate recalls are part of a broader effort by Democrats to exact revenge on Republicans for passing Gov. Scott Walker's contentious collective bargaining law, which strips most public workers of nearly all their union rights, as well as other GOP proposals that would cut public education by nearly a billion dollars and require voters to show photo identification.
Last summer, Democrats forced six Republican senators into recalls. They defeated two, winnowing the GOP Senate majority to just one vote. In November, Democrats launched a new wave of recall drives, this time targeting Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Fitzgerald and freshmen Sens. Pam Galloway of Wausau, Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls and Van Wanggaard of Racine.
Democrats handed state elections officials recall petitions this month, jammed with what the party said were nearly 2 million signatures, enough to trigger recall elections against all six Republicans. The state Government Accountability Board is working to verify signatures' authenticity, a task that could take weeks. It is unclear when — or if — elections might be scheduled.
Still, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and state Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville already have announced they will seek the Democratic nomination to take on Walker. No one has emerged to challenge Kleefisch or Fitzgerald yet.
Seidel, of Wausau, will challenge Galloway. Seidel has served in the Assembly since 2004. The former police officer has been the Democrats' second-in-command the last two sessions, first as assistant majority leader and now as assistant minority leader. Brad Wojciechowski, communications director for the state Democratic Party's Senate committee, said Seidel will not seek re-election to the Assembly this November, choosing instead to put all her resources into the Senate race.
Galloway, a surgeon, defeated then-Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Weston, in November 2010. She spent the last year developing the state's new concealed carry law.
Dexter, of Eau Claire, will take on Moulton. She served in the Assembly in 2009 and 2010 before losing re-election to Chippewa Falls Republican Kathy Bernier.
Moulton, who owns an archery shop, was elected to the Assembly in 2004. He jumped to the Senate in 2010, defeating incumbent Democrat Pat Kreitlow.
Lehman, of Racine, will run against Wanggaard. A former high school history teacher, Lehman served in the Assembly from 1996 until 2004. He was elected to the Senate in 2006 and served one term before Wanggaard, a former police investigator, defeated him in 2010.