RACINE - Former State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, announced Tuesday he will run against Republican Sen. Van Wanggaard in what is looking like a probable recall election.
"We need a change of course in this state and we need it now," Lehman said to a group of about 20 supporters at the Racine Public Library, where he made the announcement. "We need real leadership in Madison."
Volunteers and workers collected over 24,000 signatures to recall Wanggaard, one of four Republican senators facing a recall along with the governor and lieutenant governor. Democrats only need 15,353 valid signatures to hold a recall for Wanggaard, and Republicans and the Government Accountability Board are currently reviewing those signatures to determine how many are valid.
Wanggaard ran against Lehman in 2010 to win the seat he holds now, but the 21st District seat has repeatedly gone back and forth between the two political parties.
In Lehman's announcement, he said he didn't plan to run again after losing to Wanggaard. But then, "Gov. Walker set off a bomb," Lehman said.
The Republicans cut public education and funds for universities, Lehman said, and they have done nothing for jobs.
Wanggaard's responseBut in a statement released soon after Lehman's announcement, Wanggaard said, "From the moment I took office last January, my singular focus has been on reversing the job loss that occurred under John Lehman's watch by laying the groundwork for job creation. We've eliminated John Lehman and Jim Doyle's $3.6 billion structural deficit, paid our bills and balanced the budget without raising taxes."
Wanggaard said later in an interview, "(Lehman) had four years in the Senate and he had the opportunity to gain jobs, and he participated in losing 150,000 jobs." Lehman was on the Joint Finance Committee and together with leadership he made the policy and dollar decisions during his years in the senate, Wanggaard said.
"Was there an issue with economic issues from outside factors? Absolutely. But when you are in a position of leadership, you have to take those things into account," Wanggaard said.
Going into what is a likely election, Wanggaard has approximately $113,000 to Lehman's approximately $2,000, according to online campaign finance reports. But Lehman said "If it's people against money on the day we have the election, I'm fine."
In previous elections, he had less than his competitor and still won, he said. His larger concern is outside, third-party spending, which he said could drown out both his and Wanggaard's voices.
He does not yet have a campaign headquarters, but Maura Tracy, the state Democratic Party's regional director, said she anticipates they will open a new Democratic Party headquarters in the next week or two. It will be in a new location, not the Racine Labor Center, 2100 Layard Ave., where the recall headquarters was set up, she said.
If Lehman won the Senate seat back, it would return power of the Senate to the Democrats, which currently are just one seat away from a majority.
But that power could be short-lived because the regular legislative session ends in mid-March and under legislative rules no bills can be introduced until the next session begins in January 2013, unless a special session is called. By that point, Republicans could have a chance to take back the Senate during this fall's elections. Half the state's senators are up for election then including Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, who under newly drawn voting districts would represent Kenosha as well as the city of Racine. Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, who represents Waterford will also be up for election this fall.