Lori Compas is the Fort Atkinson woman who almost single-handedly led the grassroots petition drive to recall 17-year incumbent and Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
The Decision to "Recall Fitz"
Compas started the "Committee to Recall Scott Fitzgerald" after growing frustrations with Fitzgerald's role as top lieutenant to Governor Scott Walker and due to his lack of concern for Wisconsin's middle class families.
"None of Walker's controversial policies would be in effect today if he didn't have a buddy in the legislature pushing it through," said Compas. With its ALEC Exposed project, CMD determined that Fitzgerald was the former state chair of ALEC and is a member of the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force, which crafted the controversial Voter ID bill. As Senate Majority leader, Fitzgerald has played a key role in implementing the Walker agenda, including Wisconsin's version of Voter ID and dozens more from the ALEC playbook. Jeff Fitzgerald, his brother, is the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly.
The turning point for Compas was on March 9, 2011, when Fitzgerald shortcut the states Open Meetings Law in an attempt to pass Walker's controversial "budget repair bill" which stripped public sector unions of most of their collective bargaining rights. With under two hours' notice, thousands of protesters surrounded the Wisconsin Capitol building, but could not gain access.
Wisconsin has a long tradition of open and clean government with strong open records and open meetings laws.
"All [Fitzgerald] had to do was post a sign 24 hours –- or even 2 hours -- in advance, announcing his intentions to hold a meeting," said Compas. "He didn't do that."
David vs. Goliath
The journey to recall Fitzgerald, that began just days before November 15th, was not an easy one. Democrats were planning to recall a number of State Senators in an attempt to gain the single seat needed to flip control of the Senate from Republican to Democratic hands.
In the 2010 election, incumbent Fitzgerald received 68 percent of the vote in the state's 13th Senate District, beating Democrat Dwayne Block, who only received 29 percent of the vote. While the Democratic Party led three other recall efforts across the state -- Senator Pam Galloway of Wausau, Senator Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls, and Senator Van Wanggaard of Racine -- they were not willing to take on Fitzgerald in such a Republican district.
The Committee to Recall Fitzgerald was on its own.
Despite no previous work in politics, Compas quickly took the steps necessary to trigger a recall. "I began the process to file paperwork just days before it was due to the Government Accountability Board," said Compass.
Putting Her Life on Hold
Compas, mother of two, put her career as a freelance photographer and writer on hold as she quickly became wrapped up in the demands of the recall effort. She found support through a number of small grassroots teams around rural Jefferson and Dodge Counties after launching a Facebook page. Together the small band spent long hours on street-corners and door-to-door collecting signatures.
Many thought it couldn't be done. Compas said she was thankful the weather was on their side, making it bearable for volunteers to stand outside of shopping centers to reach eligible voters.
On Tuesday morning, Compas' efforts paid off as she and her team filed 20,600 signatures to the Government Accountability Board (GAB). This is 3,700 more signatures than the 16,724 needed to spark a recall election for Fitzgerald.
Carrying boxes that read "We Love Wisconsin" across them, Compas declared "These boxes contain our hopes, our hard work and 20,600 signatures" to cheers from the crowd.
In a statement, Fitzgerald said he looked forward to defending his record, saying the reforms Republicans had championed over the past year had "balanced a massive budget deficit without raising taxes or resorting to layoffs."
"Strongly Considering" a Run
Before a recall election can be certified by the GAB, the 20,600 signatures must survive the scrutiny of GOP lawyers who will try to disqualify enough signatures to prevent the recall from getting on the ballot.
As organizers wait to hear back from the GAB on next steps, Compas said after receiving a great deal of encouragement she is "strongly considering" a run, but she stressed this is not the reason she started the recall effort.