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Lawmaker Survives Recall Election Over Indian Fishing Rights

March 7, 1990

RHINELANDER, Wis. (AP) _ A state lawmaker easily fended off a recall attempt by opponents of spearfishing rights for Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians.

Rep. James Holperin, the first state lawmaker to face a recall since 1932, won 9,535 votes or 69 percent to 4,380 or 31 percent for businessman Gene Ahlborn in the special Democratic race Tuesday.

Holperin still faces Brian Sherren, a resort owner, in a recall election April 3. Sherren, 40, ran unopposed in the GOP primary and garnered 601 votes.

Ahlborn, 50, conceded defeat and said he was ″extremely happy. I certainly wasn’t looking for a job.″

″It was a referendum on treaty rights and if that’s what the people want, I guess I can live with it,″ he said. ″It looks to me like they want to roll over and play dead.″

The recall campaign was the work of groups opposed to Indian spearfishing, a right that was granted to the state’s Chippewas in 19th century treaties with the U.S. government. A 1983 federal court ruling also gave the Indians rights to cut timber, hunt and gather food off the reservation.

Spearfishermen harvest the fish each spring as the spawn. It is an extremely efficient fishing method, and outdoorsmen and those in the tourism industry fear it will reduce the population of walleyed pike for sports fishing.

The issue has caused years of unrest in northern Wisconsin. Last April and May, hundreds of sportsmen showed up at lakes during the three-week spearfishing season. Some threw rocks or shouted ethnic slurs at the Indians.

Holperin, 39, a former radio and TV newscaster, was elected to the Assembly in 1982.

Organizers of the recall were especially critical of his support last year for Republican Gov. Tommy G. Thompson’s plan to pay a Chippewa band $50 million in cash and other aid over 10 years to curtail exercise of their treaty rights. Tribal members voted down the plan.

Dean Crist, a spokesman for Stop Treaty Abuse-Wisconsin, the anti- spearfishin g group that circulated the petitions for recall, said his group had not supported either candidate in the race.

″The purpose of STA was to send a message that we were unhappy,″ Crist said.

In Wisconsin’s last recall election, 58 years ago, Republican Sen. Otto Mueller retained his seat.

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