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Wisconsin Recall: Election Law Quirk Could Throw Governance Into Disarray

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MILWAUKEE -- Right now, Wisconsin has a Republican governor and lieutenant governor. But after Tuesday's recall elections, the top two officials could be from different parties.

In normal elections, the two candidates run on a single ticket. But in recall elections, public officials are on their own. So theoretically, Gov. Scott Walker (R) could hold on to his seat, while Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) could lose to Mahlon Mitchell, meaning Walker would have to work with a Democrat.

"Highly unlikely," former Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold told The Huffington Post when asked about this scenario.

Both Mitchell and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) also dismissed the possibility, arguing that people were likely to choose two candidates from the same party.

"We don't see that split-ticket scenario at all. We're not factoring that in," said Barrett.

"I believe that when someone goes and votes for a Democratic lieutenant governor, they in turn go and vote for a Democratic governor -- and vice versa. So I don't see that being a real threat. I haven't thought much about it," added Mitchell.

Still, it could happen. People might check the box for Walker but leave the box for lieutenant governor blank -- while more Democratic voters fill it in for Mitchell.

Technically, the lieutenant governor is in charge of Wisconsin whenever the governor is "absent," but with modern technology, it's possible to conduct business even when out of state.

But as the Associated Press noted, a lieutenant governor could still declare him- or herself in charge every time the governor leaves the state -- and cause an incredible amount of mischief.

"Once in control, the lieutenant governor could sign or veto bills, issue or revoke executive orders, make judicial appointments, call lawmakers into a special session, demand access to confidential governor files or issue pardons," reported the AP. "While the governor could undo most of those moves upon returning, a pardon is irreversible, and any secrets learned by the opposition wouldn't be unlearned."

"I think people of both parties would agree that no good could come of that," said J. Gordon Hylton, a professor at Marquette Law School. "But then again, the way Wisconsin politics have become, you never know."

Mitchell also dismissed this type of scenario in an interview with The Huffington Post on Saturday.

"The lieutenant governor only actually has any real power when the governor unfortunately passes or has anesthetic. So when he leaves the state, the lieutenant governor isn't technically in charge at the capitol," he said.

Republicans are also fighting to hang on to four state Senate seats on Tuesday. Three incumbent GOP senators are up for reelection, while there is one open seat that became vacant when state Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) decided to resign as it became clear that she was going to have to go through the recall process.

State Sen. Van Wangaard (R-Racine) is viewed as the most vulnerable and the best possibility for a Democratic pick-up. He is running against Democrat John Lehman who previously held the seat before being beaten by Van Wangaard in 2010.

If Democrats pick up any one seat, they regain control of the state Senate, while Republicans will retain the majority in the Assembly. The victory would be the result of not only this recall election, but also a previous round of recalls in August, in which Democrats took over two seats and narrowed the gap with Republicans.

While the victory would be meaningful symbolically, it might not mean much practically. The legislature is out of session until November, when regular elections for state senate will be held.

If Barrett wins, he could theoretically ask the legislature to come back for a special session, but it would require the consent of both the state Senate and the Assembly.

"Whoever is the governor can call us in for a special session, and the legislature can make a determination whether to respond to that call," explained state Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona), who leads the Democratic caucus. "I think the governor -- it will be his decision -- but I think if Mayor Barrett is elected governor, he recognizes that we need to start immediately to heal the political decisions to get jobs created in the area."

Miller said that if Democrats win back the Senate, their focus would be two-fold: changing the tone of politics in Wisconsin and focusing on job creation.

"For one thing, we would open up the process, so the way we conduct business is a return to an open and transparent process, so that the public has an opportunity to provide their input into the decisions that have to be made. [Another] one of the main things would be to focus on job creation in the state of Wisconsin," he said.

Miller also argued that winning at least one Senate seat on Tuesday would also help them regain control of the majority in the November elections.

"Particularly if Barrett wins the recall election, there will be a demonstration that Wisconsin voters want to see us move forward with an agenda that is respectful of the entire state and to have an end to the sort of deep, partisan, divisive politics that Gov. Walker has pursued," he said. "It would be my hope and expectation that Republicans in the Assembly would realize that voters have enough."

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