Activists have submitted more than 1 million signatures to force a recall of Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a number of state legislators, setting the stage for another electoral fight between the state's GOP and Democrats.
Anti-Walker groups, led by Wisconsin United, spent the last 60 days collecting signatures needed for a recall. State law requires petitions top at least one quarter of all votes cast in the most recent election -- in this case 540,208 signees. Nearly twice as many were submitted on Tuesday, setting in motion a series of legal and electoral machinations that could culminate in a recall election in the late spring.
Wisconsin GOP Expects to Detect Many Invalid Signatures
The state's GOP plans to stymie an electoral do-over, according Wisconsin Republican Party Communications Director Ben Sparks.
Of course they got a million signatures when they're allowing individuals to sign 80 times and sign as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, he said.
Citing anecdotal evidence of faulty signatures and in some cases outright fraud, the state's GOP believes it can chop away at the total number of signatures by picking out duplicates and the Mickey Mouses of the world. The party has established 10 field offices throughout the state to help. Sparks said a veritable army of volunteers is awaiting the opportunity to comb through the petitions.
Our momentum is growing by the day, he said. We have thousands upon thousands of volunteers stepping up the effort to verify these recall signatures.
Walker himself has admitted to expecting a recall, and has been fundraising across the country for the looming election.
I look forward to talking to the people of Wisconsin about my continued promises to control government spending, balance the budget, and hold the line on taxes, he said in a statement. Instead of going back to the days of billion dollar budget deficits, double digit tax increases and record job loss, I expect Wisconsin voters will stand with me and keep moving Wisconsin forward.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party, meanwhile, will undergo the arduous process of selecting a gubernatorial challenger for Walker. Party Spokesman Graeme Zielinski brushed away claims that petitions are awash in flaws and could negate the recall.
There will be an election, he said. It would represent extralegal or extraterrestrial intervention for there not to be a recall.
The GOP has not wholly banked on the petitions' rejection, according to Sparks.
We've always operated under the presumption that there will be a recall, he said. There was never any doubt that Democrats would get a high volume of signatures. We're prepared to do whatever is necessary to win a possible election.
Recall supporters appear before a truck with boxes containing about one million signed recall petitions forms at the General Accounting Board in Madison. (REUTERS/Darren Hauck)
Backlash After Effort to Limit Collective Bargaining Rights of Public Unions
The state's Republicans, and Walker in particular, drew the ire of public sector workers after authoring and passing legislation that limited the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. In the time since, activists have expanded their list of complaints to include what they characterize as floundering employment figures, controversial voting rights bills and an ongoing investigation that has enveloped members of Walker's staff.
The election is fundamentally about how Scott Walker lied to the people of Wisconsin, Zielinski said.
The recall petitions must now undergo a vetting process by the state's Government Accountability Board (GAB), in a procedure the agency estimates will cost the state $9 million. The price tag has become a sticking point for the state's GOP, which characterizes it as a major fiscal burden for a state already in the throes of monetary turmoil.
The recall petitions reach beyond the bounds of Walker's office, to include Lieutenant Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators.
The first-term State Senator Van Wanggaard was part of a Republican electoral wave that swept into office in 2010. Just over a year into office, he now counts himself among the lawmakers facing a recall election. The Racine County lawmaker expressed more annoyance than hostility over the oncoming election.
Is this distracting? It could be, he said. That's part of the problem. We should be here from doing the people's work. I think there's a few angry people that knew they were going to this recall before Election Day. They had already bought the 'Recall Walker' domain name. That was their game plan right from the get-go.
Wanggaard expressed some skepticism over the 24,000 signatures submitted in the recall petition against him. He has lined up several hundred people to comb through the signatures after the GAB. He joins the ranks of six other Republican lawmakers who endured a recall election last August.
This spring's looming elections will likely be a replay, according to Republican State Sen. Luther Olsen, one of four Republican State Senators to survive last summer's recall elections.
It puts the state in complete chaos, he said. You've got a lot of local governments that will have to spend a lot of money. People are going to be inundated with campaigns all year long in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Symbolizes Larger Battle
Olsen's experience reflects what has become an accepted truth in Wisconsin: its political climate reaches beyond the bounds of state lines. Walker's fundraising excursions to the coasts are indicative of the bigger picture politicos have hung onto his fate -- his successful ouster could foretell Republican headaches in the 2012 election. Even Olsen endured a campaign funding largesse wholly alien to his political life during his recall campaign.
In all honesty, it was all outside money, he said. The most that has ever been spent on this senate seat was $70,000. We raised a quarter of a million. There were a lot of people making lots of phone calls on my behalf. If this was just Wisconsin-based, it wouldn't be a whole lot of money.
To date, Walker's campaigning has garnered about $5 million in campaign cash. Democrats acknowledge their funding may not be as hefty.
This recall process has created an incredible army of volunteers, Zielinski said. The Tea Party wave has crested, it's time for the recall movement to take its place.
The state's GOP, however, paints a wholly different picture.
This group of liberal activists who turned in these signatures in no way represent the Wisconsin voters, Sparks said. All this recall effort will do is serve as a repudiation of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.