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UPDATED: More than 22,300 signed petition to recall Harsdorf, organizers say

Recall petition organizer Scott Herron, a New Richmond High School teacher, addresses the crowd at the St. Croix County Government Center on Monday evening. Nan Lambert of River Falls is holding the microphone speaker.1 / 2
Joan Schneider of River Falls, center, shouts in joy upon hearing that 22,300 signatures supporting the recall of state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf have been collected. Dick Kinney of Hudson, left, wears a more somber expression.2 / 2

Organizers of the effort to recall state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf announced in a Monday evening rally that they have collected more than enough signatures to force an election.

A crowd of about 150 volunteer petition circulators yelled joyfully and applauded when Scott Herron, a New Richmond High School teacher, made the announcement in front of the St. Croix County Government Center in Hudson.

"We're doing this because people in your district are sick of being dismissed and ignored by you," Herron said, addressing Harsdorf, who was at her own rally in Hudson's Lakefront Park.

"You ignored us in Madison. You ignored our thousands of calls, e-mails and visits. So we stand here tonight with 22,300 signatures, and (will have) more tomorrow," Herron said.

The Harsdorf opponents needed 15,744 signatures in the 10th Senate District to force a recall election.

Herron noted that they had gathered 142 percent of the required number.

A caravan left from the Committee to Recall Harsdorf office in Hudson at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday to deliver the signatures to the Government Accountability Board in Madison.

The board will have 31 days to determine if the number of valid signatures is equal to 25 percent of 10th District residents who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

If the petition is valid, the election will likely take place in July.

Cathy Leaf, chair of the St. Croix County Democrats, said the party hasn't endorsed a candidate to run against Harsdorf yet.

"We're talking to some people and we expect to have a candidate in a couple of weeks," she said.

Leaf said she isn't expecting a primary, but it is a possibility.

A source who wished to remain anonymous said party officials have interviewed six potential candidates. The source said the group includes at least three strong candidates.

Grassroots effort

Herron was one of four speakers at Monday evening's rally.

He began by relating how he got involved in the petition drive.

Four months earlier, he said, he had been telling a co-worker how truly happy we was with his career and the work he was doing with at-risk students.

Then Gov. Scott Walker unveiled the budget repair bill that would strip public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights and reduce spending on education and programs to assist the disadvantaged, Herron said.

"And I had the naïve hope that sanity and cooler heads were going to prevail," he said. "...I kept waiting. Then I watched hundreds of thousands of people descend on Madison, my family among them, thinking they would have to listen to us. We pleaded and we begged, and yeah, sometimes we yelled. But somewhere in there I realized they never intended to listen to us. They never intended to concede anything."

Herron described picking up petition sheets at a Hudson coffee shop in early March. He said that after going door-to-door in Hudson for two hours and collecting 10 signatures, he knew he needed a better plan.

"So my family and I, you know, the well-funded union machine that we are - outside agitators from New Richmond - spent $83 on some signs and a canopy," Herron related.

The crowd laughed at the reference to Sen. Harsdorf's claims that outside union officials are behind the effort to oust her.

Herron said he and other volunteers "sat out in the wind and snow in New Richmond," and in a few days had 500 signatures. Eventually, 1,600 New Richmond-area residents signed the petition, he said.

Herron said the people he remembers best are the Republicans who signed.

One off-duty police officer said he had driven past him for four days, and each time wrestled over whether he should sign.

"The reason I am, is because wrong is wrong," the officer reportedly told Herron.

"They've been the ones who reminded me that this is not about parties. This is not about conservative versus liberal. This is about wrong," Herron said of the Republican signers. "This is about how to govern and not dictate."

Addressing the reason for the recall effort, he said: "We did this because we don't want Washington politics in Wisconsin. We need politicians who are more loyal to the people of this state than they are to their party - who are brave enough to vote their conscience when they need to, and who can sit down and compromise like my six- and three-year-old boys can."

Other speakers

Matt Stauner, co-chair of the UW-River Falls College Democrats/Liberals, accused Walker and Harsdorf of waging "all-out war" on workers.

"Even after day-to-day protests of tens of thousands in attendance, after countless e-mails and countless phone calls, our state senator refused to listen," Stauner said. "Well, Sheila, we tried calling you, but you didn't answer. Now after nearly two months of hard work, we're going to recall you."

Hudson resident Joel Kulow, a Minnesota state employee, said that "thank you" was the common refrain he heard from people who signed the petition or stopped to talk to him while he was gathering signatures in Hudson.

"Thank you for sticking up for working families, teachers and all public employees of Wisconsin. Thank you for fighting this political extremism," he reported being told.

Kulow praised the 14 Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin for three weeks in an effort to prevent passage of the budget repair bill.

"The Fabulous 14 showed us the way," he said. "If they had not done what they did, we would not be standing here today. But they did lead us, and they did inspire us, and we did follow. And we are just getting started."

Nan Lambert of River Falls, a mental health professional for a private agency, thanked the volunteers who circulated petitions and the people who signed.

"I'm really grateful for all of the wonderful people I've met through this process," she said.

Barry Urbas of North Hudson was one of the volunteers. A non-union worker for a general contractor, Urbas said he was angered by Republicans making scapegoats out of teachers.

"It isn't right. These people deserve better than that," Urbas said. "What has become (of us) when you're ashamed to be a teacher in this country? It's just disgusting."

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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