Organizers behind the recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker collected 1 million signatures to be submitted to the state's Government Accountability Board on Tuesday, dwarfing the required number of names and virtually ensuring that a recall election will take place later this year.
A total of 540,208 valid signatures, or 25 percent of all of the votes cast in the election that put Walker in office last January, were needed to force a recall election, but organizers had aimed for hundreds of thousands more than the minimum requirement to ensure they met the threshold even if some signatures are disqualified.
The success of labor and liberal activists in forcing a recall election guarantees that Wisconsin will have an election-year reprise of its national star turn from last year -as ground zero in a climactic conflict between conservative activists and public-employee unions. Given the timing of the special election, and the fact that Wisconsin is a critical Midwestern electoral battleground, the contest is sure to seep into the presidential election between President Barack Obama and the Republican presidential nominee.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party was quick to dub the recall effort - which also targeted Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and a handful of Republican state legislators - the "biggest" in American history and boasted that organizers had gathered a whopping 460,000 extra signatures for the recall of Walker, who infuriated many in his state last year by pushing through a law that ended most collective bargaining rights for many public workers.
"An incredible number of Wisconsinites have stood up to be counted and say, 'We can't wait for the next election. We absolutely must get Scott Walker out of office right now,'" Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate told POLITICO.
Meagan Mahaffey, executive director of United Wisconsin- the group behind the recall efforts - said Tuesday's results sent a "crystal clear message to Scott Walker that voters are done with his extreme policies and his destruction that he's doing to our state."
Mahaffey insisted that the movement did not simply represent a battle between Walker and organized labor. "This is a message to people of all backgrounds and all different types of people that have worked so hard on this recall. The best outcome for all of us is the same: Recall Scott Walker," she said.
Kelly Steele, a strategist for We Are Wisconsin, the group that led Wisconsin's Senate recalls, also hailed Tuesday's news as a victory for all Wisconsinites.
"Scott Walker lied his way into office, and has since launched unprecedented attacks on Wisconsin's working families, dividing the state like never before," Steele said in an email. "This historic recall is a million-strong victory for Wisconsinites united to take their government back from wealthy special interests who bought and paid for Scott Walker and are dictating the terms of his extreme agenda."
The Republican Governors Association quickly came to Walker's defense on Tuesday, announcing the launch of www.StandWithScott.com - a website dedicated to promoting the governor's policies and accomplishments.
"Gov. Walker tackled Wisconsin's challenges head on, and his plan to turn around Wisconsin is working," RGA Chairman Bob McDonnell said. "Thanks to Gov. Walker's leadership, the future prospects of Wisconsin's taxpayers, families and job-creating business owners are brighter than ever."
Newt Gingrich was the first GOP presidential candidate to express public support for Walker Tuesday. "Newt proudly campaigned for Gov. Walker when he was running for office and he would proudly do it again. He is one of the best things going for the Republican Party," Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said.
"Recall should be used only for politicians who have been guilty or crime or fraud, not those who take on powerful special interests. Scott Walker showed bold leadership. If international union bosses want to beat Gov. Walker, they should try to do so through the proper election process. This recall would set a dangerous precedent," said Ron Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton. Successful recall efforts are a rarity in modern politics. But the idea that they could be used as an effective weapon against political opponents received a historic boost in 2003, when California Gov. Gray Davis was ousted less than a year after his reelection in a recall bid led by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Walker, 44, began his confrontation with public employee unions within weeks of taking office a year ago. He submitted an austerity budget for Wisconsin that included provisions to revoke the collective bargaining rights of most state workers on most contract provisions beyond wages, and took other steps to weaken the power of the unions.
Conservatives around the country cheered what they saw as a courageous step. But Walker's move led to massive protests in Madison and around the country, and a showdown with Democrats in the state legislature that saw Democratic state senators leave the state in an effort to prevent a quorum for Walker's measure to pass. The bill eventually was enacted after a series of court challenges ended in Walker's favor.
Walker had long expected the recall effort to net enough signatures to force a vote. "From our viewpoint, this election - come April or May - will not be about a rehash of last February and March. Voters in this state, and not just because I'm going to say it, are overwhelmingly ready to move on. They want to move forward. So our argument - real simple - will be: Do you want to move forward or backward?" Walker told POLITICO in December.
A loophole in state law allows Walker to do unlimited fundraising until a recall date is set, and Walker's been aggressively stockpiling funds for the coming onslaught.
As for his potential Democratic challenger, the governor predicted that the candidate will be "hand-picked" by the unions, declaring that his yet-to-be-named "opponent" is not a single person, but "big union bosses."
Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, said Tuesday that Walker was getting what he deserved for using his power for "political payback" against the unions.
"This is a governor who many believe abused his power and tried to stifle his opposition," said Stern. "Under the guise of balancing the budget, he politically paid back, very negatively, unions and other allies."
But even as they were gearing up to celebrate a historic victory this week, Wisconsin Democrats still have not answered one important question: Who will they back to defeat Walker?
The Wisconsin Democratic Party has downplayed the issue, saying it would be counterproductive to discuss names before a recall election was even secured, guaranteeing that the question will loom even larger after Tuesday for a party that has so far given no indication that they are fired up and ready to unify behind any one individual.
"There are a couple of good Democrats that I know are taking a look at this race, and this is indicative of how weak Scott Walker is that we may have more than one strong candidate," said Tate. "This is tremendously significant - it's something that's never happened before in Wisconsin history. It is a very high bar to hold a recall election."
Whether the challenger ends up being former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk or state Sen. Tim Cullen, Tate noted that he expects the winner of the Democratic primary to beat Walker and become "a phenomenal governor."
A new poll released Tuesday indicated that both Falk and Cullen would be a weak match against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic nominee who lost to Walker in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
Barrett received 26 percent support in a hypothetical four-way contest for the Democratic nomination, compared with 22 percent for Falk, 21 percent for former Rep. David Obey and 11 percent for Cullen, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted on Jan. 16 of 522 likely Democratic voters.
Barrett congratulated the people of Wisconsin in a statement Tuesday, declaring that it was "time for a new direction" for his state.
"I stand with the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Wisconsin citizens who have had enough of Walker's cynical politics that try to divide the people of our state," said Barrett. "It's time for a new direction that will heal our fractured state and move Wisconsin forward again."
Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board stipulates that public officials in Wisconsin are only eligible for a recall after he or she has served at least one year in their current term.
The GAB had initially planned a 60-day review process to verify the validity of the names submitted on Tuesday, but recently requested more time to comply with more stringent rules that were recently put in place. State officials are predicting that with the current state of affairs, a recall election consisting of a primary and general race, won't take place until at least June. ------------------------------------- Ginger Gibson, Maggie Haberman and James Hohmann contributed to this report. *************************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: email@example.com