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In Wisconsin recall, voters vent anger at Washington-style politics

The Wisconsin recall has brought record-breaking political spending to the state, and as voters went to the polls Tuesday, many said they simply wanted the contentious process to be over.

By Staff writer / August 9, 2011

Voters take to the polls as Wisconsin holds the nation's largest-ever recall elections in Glendale Tuesday.

Darren Hauck/REUTERS

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Whitefish Bay, Wis.

In the weeks leading up to Wisconsin's recall elections for six Republican state senators Tuesday, voters have endured a nearly constant stream of negative ads on their televisions, campaign mailings in their mailbox, and spangled signs on neighbors' front lawns. State politics has been inescapable.

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So on a perfect summer Tuesday morning at polling places like the public library in Whitefish Bay, Wis., voters like Cindi Larson of nearby Shorewood showed up not so much to vote, but rather to vent.

Republican or Democrat, people in this placid, tree-lined suburb of Milwaukee are exhausted by politics – by the anger that has coursed through the state Capitol since Republicans introduced a plan in February to strip many state unions of their collective-bargaining rights, by the political machinations involved in delaying and then passing the bill, and by the recall recriminations that have followed.

In short, they are frustrated by the entire Wisconsin political process. And it was in that mood of steely resolve that many interrupted their pleasant summer routines for a civic duty that was, on this occasion, decidedly unpleasant.

“I want to get it over with, it’s enough,” Ms. Larson says. “State politics here are getting worse than in Washington. These [politicians] are playing with our lives and they need to be sent a message.”

The recall elections are an attempt to change the partisan balance of power in the Wisconsin Senate, which currently has 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats. In addition to the six Republicans facing recalls Tuesday, two Senate Democrats face recall elections on Aug. 16.

Even if Democrats are victorious and take control of the chamber, however, they will be unable to roll back the legislation already passed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the state Assembly, which remains under Republican control.

Nonetheless, pent-up anger over the union bill unleashed recall elections that have smashed state spending records. Interest-group spending has already topped $28 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group in Madison tracks campaign financing in the state. The previous record for any election cycle was $20 million in 2008.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign predicts that once both elections are finished, total spending will have topped nearly $40 million.

The race in the Eighth Senate District, which includes Whitefish Bay, has topped the spending list. In total, the race between state Sen. Alberta Darling (R) and her Democratic challenger, state Rep. Sandy Pasch, has seen $7.9 million in spending, the highest ever on an individual state race, topping the previous record of $3 million.

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