Will the Real Candidates in the Recall Elections Please Stand Up?
Could Wisconsin politics get any weirder? Wait, don't answer that question. Now, we've got a Republican primary because Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a guy running as a "progressive Republican" has thrown his hat into the ring.
Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a scruffy-haired 23-year-old political activist who used to serve pizza at the Children’s Museum in Madison until a few weeks ago, says he is not a "fake Republican."
But he’s not a traditional Republican, either.
Kohl-Riggs is running against Gov. Scott Walker in the Republican primary after he collected and turned in more than 2,200 signatures to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board this week. If the GAB, which oversees elections in Wisconsin, votes to allow him on the ballot, Kohl-Riggs will be Walker's sole opponent in the May 8 primary.
So, if he’s not a Democrat or traditional Republican, what political flag does Kohl-Riggs fly?
He describes himself as a “progressive Republican,” following the political lines of former Wisconsin Sen. Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette and Abraham Lincoln.
And the reason Kohl-Riggs wants his name on the GOP ballot is because he wants to force Republicans to vote for Gov. Scott Walker in the primary instead of meddling in the Democratic primary, he said.
If Walker ran uncontested, Republicans could vote in the the Democratic primary and cast a ballot for the Democrat they think would be Walker's weakest opponent in the June general election. Having a challenger in the GOP primary provides incentive to the Republicans to vote for Walker in the primary.
Is he a 'fake'?
“I do not consider myself a 'fake Republican' and I distinguish myself from them because the ‘fake Democrats’ are actually staffed by the GOP and their presence in the election is to game the system because it creates a primary and pushes back the election by a month,” Kohl-Riggs said.
These seemingly back room-type political decisions are legal in the state of Wisconsin.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the GAB, explained in an email that voters could cast ballots in the party of their choosing since they are not required to register by political party.
“For example, you may vote in the Republican primary for governor, the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor and a Democratic primary for state senator. But you may not vote in both the Republican and Democratic primaries for governor,” Magney said.
”When people go in to an election booth, they want to know who they are voting for and why."
In a press release on the state party's website, Executive Director Stephan Thompson said the reason for running protest candidates is so elections line up on the same day across the state. The GAB set the primaries for May 8 and the general election for June 5. But in any races in which there had been no primaries, May 8 would have been the general election date.
There also is an effort afoot to write-in Walker's name in the Democratic primary as well.
And Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said “some Republicans may vote for Falk in the Democratic primary because polling shows she does not perform as well as Barrett in head-to-head matchups with GOP Gov. Scott Walker,” according to a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"There's nothing to keep the Republicans from messing around," Fitzgerald said.
What's the party line?
Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, calls running the fake candidates “un-American” and “a perversion of Democracy.”
Zielinski said the party had no role in Kohl-Riggs’ decision to run and it doesn’t condone running fake candidates.
“That’s like the Republicans embracing fake candidates,” Zielinski said. “It’s a joke. It’s a farce, a daily farce. And it’s being done with Walker’s blessing and it has no precedence and Walker has no regard for anything.”
"When people go in to an election booth, they want to know who they are voting for and why," Zielinski added. "This is fundamental to Democracy and Scott Walker is trying to pervert that principle.”
An attorney for the Democratic party on Thursday filed a complaint with the GAB in an effort to get the protest candidates off the ballot.
But Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, released the following statement regarding protest candidates:
“The complaint filed (Thursday) by Attorney Jeremy Levinson is nothing more than a publicity stunt. Last year, the Government Accountability Board certified the placement of all protest candidates to appear on the ballot, and its Executive Director Kevin Kennedy even stated publicly that running protest candidates did not violate the law.
"We’re confident that each of the candidates will appear on the May 8 ballot, ensuring clear primary and general election dates," Sparks added.
Dirty politics or not?
John McAdams, associate professor of political science at Marquette University, said what is a dirty tactic depends on what was normal in the past.
Since the Republicans ran fake Democrats in the recall elections last year, the move served their interest because they were able to put off the general election.
“It’s hard to call something 'dirty,' if it’s completely transparent,” he said.
This year the Republicans want all of the recall elections on the same day and they hope they can gain an advantage if they have a large turnout.
The Republicans think that will help them win and they are probably right,” McAdams said. “Sometimes what seems to be fair actually helps one party.”