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First of many likely recall attempts kick off in Wisconsin

From NBC's Jason Seher
A petition attempting to recall Wisconsin state Sen. Randy Hopper (R-Fond du lac) was delivered this afternoon to the Government Accountability Board in Madison, capping off a day of rallies protesting Hopper's record of service and his support of Gov. Scott Walker's budget and collective-bargaining positions.

"He has completely and utterly failed to represent his district," said Scott Dillman, leader of the Committee to Recall Hopper. "His inability to actually be responsive to his constituents, to their concerns, to come back and hold listening sessions, it's inconceivable why he thinks this stuff actually good for the district."

According to Dillman, a former corrections officer currently living on disability, about 22,500 people signed the petition to recall Hopper, 7,000 more than the required 15,269 valid signatures required by the state Government Accountability Board (GAB). Dillman attributes the massive outpouring of support for recalling Hopper, who was elected in 2008, to his continued inability to respond to constituent concerns and to represent their policy preferences.  

"It's not just the collective bargaining," Dillman said over the phone. "It's his stands on the tax cuts for corporations, too. It's inconceivable to me and 25,000 others that he did this."

An owner of a local media conglomerate that owns several radio stations, the 45 year-old Hopper champions a platform of restoring fiscal order and getting people back to work in the private sector. While Hopper couldn't be reached for comment, his campaign manager, Jeff Harvey, said Hopper "will continue to stand by" his policies if the state approves the recall petition.

"We're confident that Sen. Hopper is going to win," Harvey said. "We've been out there talking to voters trying to educate them, and we're very confident."

Harvey pointed to Tuesday's hotly contested Supreme Court race between incumbent Justice David Prosser (R) and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg (D) as evidence Hopper can withstand a recall election. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel map of results from the Supreme Court race show Prosser won handily in Fond du Lac, though he barely edged Kloppenburg in neighboring Winnebego. Hopper's campaign chief says observers informed his office of numerous irregularities with the recall petition. Harvey charges Dillman and organizers for the Committee to Recall Hopper gave 18th district addresses to people from outside the district, so they could sign the petition. Harvey also said committee volunteers misrepresented themselves to constituents, falsely claiming to be one of the 14 Wisconsin senate Democrats who fled the state to prevent a vote on Gov. Walker's budget repair bill.  

Dillman denies the allegations.

"That's a bunch of malarkey," Dillman stated. "We know exactly how our signatures were obtained. Nobody was paid to go get signatures. We never offered anything for any of the signatures."

Dillman said he and the committee took extra precautions to assure the signatures they collected were valid, going back through their documents to verify addresses. Before today, Dillman claimed he never heard anything about his staff or committee volunteers collecting signatures under false pretenses and Hopper's staff or local Republican party leaders never brought these allegations to his attention. Calling the contentions "delusional," Dillman added that if Hopper's people knew of these charges they should have informed not only the government accountability board, but also his committee and the local police. Regardless, he doubts these accusations will impede the recall effort.

"We have 22,500 signatures," Dillman said. "There's no way they're going to throw out 7,000 plus signatures. They can try but it's not going to work." 

If the accountability board certifies the recall petition, it will mark the second successful recall effort launched against republican state senators this year. But these two recall campaigns could only be the tip of the iceberg. As NBC’s John Yang reported in March, a total of 16 letters of intent to recall state senators have been filed with the Elections Division of the accountability board and many speculate Democratic lawmakers will organize an effort to recall Walker, when he becomes eligible in January 2012. While Article XII of the Wisconsin State Constitution, which contains the procedure for a recall election, was codified in 1926, it has never been used on such a large scale before. 

"This law hasn't been used often," said Art Cyr, a political science professor at Carthage College. "This intense ideological acrimony is not typical of Wisconsin." 

Wisconsin has never been this divided along partisan lines and predicts state politics will eventually return to its pragmatic baseline, according to Cyr. While Cyr said the state gave birth to the progressive and populist movements centered around direct-citizen participation, it does not have a tradition of direct popular recall of politicians, he added. To explain the explosion of recall efforts, Cyr cited Walker's policies and his popularity among Republicans. Cyr said he thinks Walker will need to moderate his style if he wants to survive.

"I don't see this as a new trend in Wisconsin," Cyr said. "Once Gov. Walker realizes he could lose the election, if he were forced to run again, I think the kind of traditional and pragmatic character of the state will reassert itself."