The Wisconsin Six: The Backbone of Scott Walker's Extreme Agenda

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Governor Scott Walker couldn’t pass his radical union-busting legislation without the help of Republican state senators who voted uniformly to take away the rights of workers and cripple labor unions. Leading Republicans, including the State Senate’s chief Republican member, admit that the move had more to do with political gamesmanship against the progressive community than the purported fiscal conservatism. Republicans in the state legislature rushed through the anti-union bill with little public oversight and despite widespread opposition. The push to break down organized labor is just the beginning of the Walker agenda, which includes draconian budget cuts to healthcare and education, additional corporate tax breaks, a disingenuous voter ID law, risky private school voucher schemes, and attacks on women’s reproductive rights.

The six Republican state senators who have been recalled this year by their constituents range from fervent advocates of union-busting to loyal Republicans who backed the bill to show their loyalty to Governor Walker over their constituents. Read more about the senators who want to implement the Walker agenda and undermine the rights of Wisconsin’s working families:

Randy Hopper, District 18

Hopper says he’s simply trying to balance the budget, but his real goal is tax giveaways to benefit the super-wealthy like himself

Hopper wants to blame workers for the state’s budget problems: “You drove the truck in the ditch, and now you’re screaming at me for trying to get the truck out of the ditch.” However, he wants to make the budget deficit even bigger in order to pass his corporate welfare schemes.

While labor unions are agreeing to financial concessions and working families are sacrificing, Hopper wants the wealthy to pay less in taxes and earlier this year proposed eliminating the capital gains tax. According to One Wisconsin Now, “The first part of this plan would add $243 million to the current $3.3 billion budget deficit for the next two years and full implementation of the Hopper capital gains scheme would top $250 million every year.” Essentially, Hopper wants to dramatically increase the budget deficit in order to eliminate a tax that mainly impacts the wealthiest taxpayers.

Hopper himself has tried to avoid paying his fair share of taxes through loopholes. In 2008, the Fond du Lac Reporter found that since 1997 he paid state personal and business income taxes just once in the eleven year period. But Hopper, who owns a number of radio stations and a record label, was able to finance his campaign with a $22,000 donation.

In addition, Hopper in January voted in favor of an income tax credit for private health savings accounts that “primarily benefit the wealthy,” and consistently received perfect 100% ratings from the state’s pro-corporate lobby.

Hopper consistently opposes legislation benefiting working families and women

Since his election to the State Senate, Hopper’s record on issues important to working families is abysmal. He opposed raising the minimum wage and fixing the wage to the rate of inflation. While Hopper voted against compensation for victims of hiring and pay-discrimination, he supported legislation that makes it more difficult for victims of medical malpractice to seek justice in court. Hopper also has a poor record on women’s reproductive health, as he opposes comprehensive sex education and has a 100% rating from the anti-choice Wisconsin Right to Life PAC.

Hopper’s a darling of the Tea Party and Corporate Leaders

Hopper received contributions from KochPAC, the political arm of the Koch Brothers, in his 2008 campaign. As a State Senator, Hopper addressed the TEA Party of Fond du Lac and praised the Tea Party rallies held in Madison and other parts of the state.  He also was named co-chair of the so called “Taxpayer Protection Caucus,” which is a branch of the ultraconservative, pro-corporate group Americans for Tax Reform. ATR’s leader Grover Norquist, who lauded Hopper, said that “bipartisanship is another name for date rape,” and the organization has been closely involved with corporate astroturfing and anti-union campaigns across the country. ATR was also linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and was investigated by the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee for committing fraud against Native American tribes. Hopper was also trained by GOPAC, which calls itself the “Republican Party’s preeminent education and training center.”

Hopper says he’s bipartisan, but he backs Walker’s partisan power play

After his election, Hopper said in a statement: “I am always very mindful of the razor-thin margin in my election last fall. I intend to be a senator for all the residents of the 18th Senate District, not just those that voted for me.” “I think building solid relationships across the political spectrum serves us well when we begin to tackle the unprecedented challenges that the Legislature faces this session,” Hopper went on to say, “During my campaign I promised to change the business-as-usual way things work in Madison.” Instead, Hopper is assisting in Republican plans to rush through union-busting legislation and impose fines on the boycotting senators.

Hopper may not even reside in the district anymore, as his estranged wife claims that he now lives with his mistress in Madison. His relationship with his mistress, a former staffer for the state GOP, is coming under increasing scrutiny after she landed a job, with a raise, in the Walker administration.

State of Play

In 2008, Randy Hopper was elected to the State Senate by just 184 votes, winning a slim 50.05% of the vote against Democrat Jessica King. The open seat was previously held by a Republican.

In 2010, 57.2% of voters in his district backed Walker and the district was also carried by Ron Johnson. 15,269 valid signatures are needed to force a recall election. Against a generic Democrat, Hopper is behind 49-44%. Hopper himself told the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard that he expects a recall, “I have a lot of correctional facilities, a couple universities, and a couple of tech schools [in my district]. I have the second largest population of state employees in the state.” His district represents the Oshkosh and Fond du Lac metropolitan area, which includes two University of Wisconsin branches. 15,269 valid petition signatures are needed to force a recall election.

Dan Kapanke, District 32

Kapanke’s questionable relationship with lobbyists led to ethical improprieties

Dan Kapanke is not only a state senator but also owner of a local baseball team. Under state law he is not allowed to receive anything of monetary value from lobbyists or the organizations that employ them, yet employers of lobbyists purchased advertisements in his team’s baseball stadium. Kapanke claimed that such money went to a charitable foundation and not him directly, but it was later uncovered that he was using money from the foundation to pay off his debts to the city. After getting caught breaking ethics laws by using his charity as a slush fund, Kapanke said he would pay $16,000 back, but it turned out that he used the charity to pay the city $32,000 to cover his personal debts.

This wasn’t Kapanke’s first run-in with ethics problems. When it was revealed that his government staffers illegally coordinated with his campaign to organize two forums, the resulting legal episode cost taxpayers $38,000.

Wealthy enough to own a baseball team, but not to pay taxes

It’s no wonder that Kapanke opposes attempts to generate revenues to help close the state’s budget deficit: according to the Associated Press, Kapanke “owed no Wisconsin taxes in 2008.” But Kapanke did vote against raising the minimum wage and making it more difficult for victims of medical malpractice to seek justice in court. In addition, Kapanke in January voted in favor of an income tax credit for private health savings accounts that “primarily benefit the wealthy.”

Extreme record on social issues

Throughout his service in the Wisconsin State Senate, Kapanke consistently received 0% scores from Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. In addition, he believes abortion should be a crime even in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s health is in danger, and even voted against providing emergency contraception for victims of rape. Kapanke was one of just six senators to vote against providing emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault. He also voted against compensation for discriminatory pay. Moreover, he opposed comprehensive sex education and backed a private school voucher program.

State of Play

Kapanke is considered the most vulnerable Republican up for recall, with 61% of his La Crosse-based district’s voters backing Obama in 2008. He already trails a generic Democrat 55-41% according to Public Policy Polling. Last year he ran for Congress against Rep. Ron Kind but lost in an unexpectedly close race, 50-47%. During that campaign, pro-corporate outside groups like Americans for Prosperity and the 60 Plus Association spent over $1 million backing his campaign. Other groups involved in the race include Americans for Tax Reform, the Susan B. Anthony List and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Issues Mobilization Council. 15,588 valid petition signatures are needed to force a recall election.

Alberta Darling, District 8

Spearheaded Legislative Action on Walker’s Anti-Union Legislation

As co-chair of the State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, Senator Darling played a crucial role in passing the union-busting legislation. Despite her central role in shepherding through the anti-union bill, Darling says that the recall campaign “has become less about my record and what I’m doing. It’s become a national union initiative to take out the Republican senators who have been working for fiscal accountability.” Darling, who contributed $6,250 to Walker’s 2010 campaign, defended the union-busting plan by saying that “The governor is proposing that we have collective bargaining deal only with wages which is how it is, for the most part, in the private sector.” PolitiFact described her assertion as “false,” since private sector workers are allowed to organize and bargain collectively for wages, hours, working conditions, benefits and other issues.

The union-busting bill wasn’t Darling’s first vote against Wisconsin working families. She twice voted to make it more difficult for victims of medical malpractice to seek justice in court, and repeatedly opposed raising the minimum wage.

Legislature’s Top Voucher Advocate

Darling was the chief sponsor of a bill to expand a risky private school voucher program in Milwaukee, which takes away finances from the public school system and helps fund religious schools. She even is working with Governor Walker to create a voucher program in other areas of the state, if not make it statewide. In 2008, a study looked at 120 schools receiving vouchers: 95 were religious and 7 operate within a religious tradition.

The Milwaukee voucher scheme has failed to deliver the promised results. According to a 2009 study by the University of Arkansas comparing voucher students with Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students, “there is no overall statistically significant difference between MPCP (voucher) and MPS student achievement growth in either math or reading one year after they were carefully matched to each other.” Moreover, the study found that fourth graders in the voucher program actually were performing worse than comparable public school students. While she wants to expand the flagging voucher program, Walker’s budget cut $834 million from public education.

Flip-Flopping on Choice

While she once served as a board member of Planned Parenthood, Darling has moved increasingly to the right while serving in the State Senate. In fact, the state’s largest anti-choice group Wisconsin Right to Life endorsed her for reelection in 2008, with the organization’s president saying that Darling is “more pro-life than not.” She opposed a bill that would require employers to cover birth control in their medical plans, and the head of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin lamented that Darling “talks out of both sides of her mouth” on choice by promoting “herself as pro-choice to pro-choice audiences, and anti-abortion to anti-abortion audiences.”

State of Play

Darling has served in the State Senate since 1992 but won reelection in 2008 by an extremely close margin, defeating her Democratic opponent by just over 1,000 votes in what was one of the most expensive races for the Senate. Her opponent, then-State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, is likely to challenge her in a recall. The recall campaign in her suburban Milwaukee district has already claimed 1,000 volunteers. In a Public Policy Polling survey, she would defeat a generic Democrat 52-44%. President Obama carried the district in 2008 with 51% of the vote, and Scott Walker won the district with 55% in 2010. 20,343 valid petition signatures are needed to force a recall election.

Luther Olsen, District 14

A Fiscal Conservative Who Rakes in Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars in Government Subsidies

Originally, Olsen refused to say whether he would support Scott Walker’s union-busting bill, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was on staying on the sidelines. “The concept is pretty radical,” he said, “It affects a lot of good working people.” Olsen, who is the vice-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, ultimately voted in favor of the bill in the name of fiscal prudence and saving taxpayer money. Despite his concern for saving taxpayer money, however, the Environmental Working Group found that one farm which Olsen had a stake in garnered $58,502 in taxpayer subsidies from 1995 to 2009, and another farm received $25,730.

He twice voted against increasing the minimum wage and also opposed compensation for discriminatory pay. Reflecting on his pro-corporate voting record, the Wisconsin lobby group for manufacturers gave him perfect 100% scores in 2009 and 2010.

Bad on Education Policy

As the chair of the Senate Education Committee, Olsen has been a vocal supporter of using public funds for private school vouchers and has voted to expand the program. According to the La Crosse Tribune, Olsen and his Republican counterpart in the State House “want to look at expanding Milwaukee Parental Choice, the state’s only private school voucher program,” even though studies show that the MPC has been ineffective in raising scores and sends taxpayer money to religious schools.

While he supports a wrongheaded voucher policy, Olsen is stringently opposed to facts-based, comprehensive sex education in public schools. He said that under such a curriculum “you can’t tell them what’s right or wrong” and are “giving them a green light to go off and be sexually active.” Olsen ultimately voted against legislation that would allow students to learn about “the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods.

State of Play

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has made him a chief target of its campaign and is already attacking Olsen on the airwaves for his support of Walker’s anti-union legislation, and a Public Policy Polling survey shows him trailing a generic Democratic opponent by 2%. In 2008, he ran unopposed for reelection. Obama received 52% of the district’s vote in 2008, and Walker won 57% in 2010. The recall committee needs to collect 14,733 signatures in order to force an election. However, it is not yet clear who will run as his Democratic opponent if the recall makes the ballot. 14,733 valid petition signatures are needed to force a recall election.

Robert Cowles, District 2

Abandoned Compromise to Help Walker’s Agenda

During the debate over Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation, State Senator Rob Cowles appeared to back away from the bill’s radical elimination of collective bargaining rights. Cowles told the Green Bay Press Gazette that Republicans would compromise with the Democrats over collective bargaining as long as they could agree on financial concessions, saying, “The other things are less monetary in nature” and “have little or no connection to finance.” “You have to be flexible because some way, some how there will be an amendment modifying the collective bargaining,” he said, “So negotiations on this are critical to move past this and move on to the budget, which also has a number of dilemmas.” He even called on his fellow Republicans to be “flexible” on collective bargaining rights.

But Cowles quickly backtracked and stood lockstep with the other Republicans to strip workers of their collective bargaining rights, even though he admitted that it had little to do with the state’s finances. Like Senator Luther Olsen, who also expressed skepticism about Walker’s overreaching legislation, Cowles was eventually steamrolled by the governor and voted to bust the unions.

Reliable Supporter of the Right-Wing Agenda

Even though he was known as a moderate, he has increasingly become more conservative and a loyal Republican. Cowles has a record of voting against the best interest of working families. He twice voted against raising the minimum wage, and twice voted to constrain the rights of victims of medical malpractice to seek justice in court. He even opposed allowing victims of pay discrimination to seek compensation from their employers. He calls himself a proud social conservative and has a “D” rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, but in 2008 it was revealed that he had tens of thousands of dollars invested in companies that run strip clubs. He eventually sold the stock after it was exposed.

State of Play

The recall committee has picked up major momentum in his Green Bay-based district, which is home to many public workers employed by the Green Bay Correctional Institution. Against a generic Democratic opponent, Cowles leads by a slim 45-43% margin. In 2008, Obama carried his district with 52% of the vote, and Walker won 57% of the vote last year. Cowles, who ran unopposed for reelection, has served in the state legislature for almost 28 years. 15,960 valid petition signatures are needed to force a recall election.

Sheila Harsdorf, District 10

Claims Protesters Are Outsiders

When tens of thousands of Wisconsinites marched every day against Scott Walker’s union-busting bill and even the conservative Rasmussen polling found the majority of Badger State voters opposed the bill, Harsdorf claimed that outsiders were organizing the protests. Like Walker, who told a caller who he thought was David Koch that the demonstrators were actually people from Chicago, Harsdorf blamed “special interests” and told the Hudson Star Observer that she believed most of the participants were from out of state. She also doubted the authenticity of the recall movement, saying, “This is clearly driven by union interests from outside the state” and “out-of-state political operatives.” Actually, the local recall effort is led by a local attorney, Roy Sjoberg. Many recall advocates said she was unresponsive to constituents during the debate over the anti-union bill, yet she still found time to appear at a Tea Party rally.

She was a strong supporter of Walker’s inclusion of anti-union legislation in the budget bill, which was meant to bolster Republican political power while doing little to improve the state’s financial condition. But back in 2009, she strongly opposed a Democratic effort to allow workers at the University of Wisconsin to unionize by using the card-check system; Harsdorf said she “opposed the inclusion of non-fiscal policy items such as this in the budget.” Despite her previous statements, she had no problems supporting an unpopular and extreme budget proposal containing non-fiscal language about the rights of workers.

Champion of Corporate Interests, Subsidies for Herself

Harsdorf received perfect 100% scores over the last two years from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s chief pro-corporate lobby group. She also came out strongly in favor of massive tax breaks for corporations and loosening business regulations, even as she backed Walker’s draconian budget cuts.  She even supported a business tax break that experts believed would be largely ineffective at creating jobs, and consistently opposed raising the minimum wage and supported legislation to allow businesses to escape a penalty over discriminatory pay and hiring practices.

The senator praised Walker and her Republican colleagues for “working to get our fiscal house in order” and “living within the means of our taxpayers,” but she had no problem with taking taxpayer subsidies for her farm. Harsdorf owns a 50% stake in a farm that the Environmental Working Group found received $194,763 in taxpayer farm subsidies from 1999 to 2005. She also voted to expand a private school voucher program despite studies showing that it hasn’t improved education scores.

State of Play

After serving twelve years in the State Assembly, she was elected to the Senate in 2000 and won reelection in her northwestern seat with 56% of the vote in 2008. Polling shows that she leads a generic Democratic opponent by a 48-44% margin. Obama carried her district with just over 50% of the vote, while Walker won 58% in 2010. The pro-vouchers group, the American Federation for Children, is running robocalls on her behalf. 15,744 valid petition signatures are needed to force a recall election.

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