We’re about a week or so away from when activists in Wisconsin can start gathering petitions for recall elections of certain state Senators with a year in office, as well as Governor Scott Walker. And Senate Republicans, with a thin 1-vote advantage, are getting anxious. So much so that they want to change the makeup of some of the districts where the recalls would take place, according to Eric Kleefeld.

The Government Accountability Office, which oversees elections in Wisconsin, has already ruled that any recall elections in 2012 would follow the old district maps, not the new ones put in place this year for the 2012 general election and beyond. Republicans would clearly rather use the new maps; they instituted a partisan gerrymander to help them keep a hold on the legislature. It would take a law passed by the legislature to make the new maps eligible for additional recalls. But Republicans in Wisconsin have played Calvinball before to quickly meet their ends.

Republican state Senator Mary Lazich wants to change the law, citing “confusion.”

Lazich said she supported changing the law so that the new districts would take effect right away, which would mean any recalls would have to be conducted in the revised districts. She said she would discuss the matter with Senate Republicans when they meet Thursday and decide after that whether to write a bill on the issue […]

Any bill to change when the new districts take effect would have to move through quickly because recall petitions can be circulated for a new batch of lawmakers starting Nov. 4 – a week from now. Asked if she thought a bill could pass, Lazich said: “The Legislature can move mountains when they need to or they can move like molasses in January.”

I don’t see how there’s any confusion. The traditional way this is done is that the old maps hold until the 2012 elections. Recalls would fall under the elected representatives under the old maps. Indeed, Senators not up for re-election in 2012 will have been elected under old maps while eventually representing new areas. This is pretty standard practice. Of course, nothing is standard anymore in Wisconsin. Because there’s a 17-16 split in the Senate, however, Republicans would need total party unity to carry this off.

Scott Walker doesn’t have the luxury of fast-tracking a gerrymander, as he represents the whole state. The recall effort looks like it will go ahead as scheduled next month, but a recent poll shows trouble with finding a candidate to challenge him. That may come in the form of Mahlon Mitchell, a fixture at the winter protests in Madison.

Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, gave impassioned speeches on the steps outside the state Capitol in defense of workers’ rights, and he led firefighters in a march into the rotunda to roaring cheers from the protestors. Mitchell’s role in the protests catapulted him into something of a celebrity among union members and activists in Wisconsin, especially considering that firefighters were exempted from Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union budget repair bill.

Now Mitchell is eyeing a bigger stage: the governor’s mansion. In an interview with Mother Jones, he said he was “seriously considering a run” for governor in a potential recall election targeting Walker. He said he believes Wisconsinites are sick of professional politicians not following through on campaign promises, and that a populist candidate running against Walker stands a better chance of unseating the governor. The ideal candidate would be “able to talk with common people about common issues,” Mitchell said. “Tell ’em what you can do and what you can’t do.”

Union leaders and state politicos had already approached him about running against Walker in a recall election, Mitchell explained. He also said he’d recently formed an informal committee to test the waters about a recall candidacy, but stressed he had yet to decide one way or the other. “It’s a decision I’ll make very soon,” he said.

I have seen Mitchell speak, and he is definitely a compelling young person. As a potential first-time candidate, he is a wild-card, but he is the ultimate tribune of the protest movement, coming up right out of it. With the traditional Democratic figures shying away from the race, Mitchell may end up an attractive choice.

In an unrelated twist, Scott Olsen, the Iraq war vet critically injured in the Occupy Oakland protests, is from Onalaska, Wisconsin. In many ways, the Wisconsin protests were an early signal of dissent that led to the OWS movement. Having one of the leaders of the protests rise up to challenge Scott Walker would at least create an interesting narrative.

David Dayen

David Dayen