Wisconsin News

UPDATE: Organizers collect 1 million signatures to recall Walker

MADISON, Wis. -- Organizers behind an effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker have filed more than 1 million petition signatures they collected to force an election.

Recall circulators lined up around a U-Haul truck Tuesday filled with boxes of signatures. They later brought them into the Government Accountability Board office near the Capitol.

Volunteers formed a line leading to the office as others marched inside with the boxes covered in blue tape.

"This is an amazing feeling right now. I've been out there almost every day the past 60 days collecting," said Karen, a recall volunteer from Madison.

"It's been a marathon but, the next stage is on to the elections. We're going to do it all over again," she added.

The Wisconsin elections board now must verify that there are enough valid signatures, a process expected to take months. An election may not happen until June or later.

Walker says he expects voters to stand by him in any recall election and will campaign on his record.

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"The optimist in me looks at that and says the overwhelming majority of the people in the state chose not to sign that and I earned the trust of the majority the last time to serve as governor," said Walker.

"My hope is I'll earn their trust again," he added.

Walker took office a year ago and quickly angered some in the state with aggressive moves that included effectively ending collective bargaining rights for nearly all public workers.

The governor defended his actions, saying they needed to be taken to help control government spending, balance the budget and hold the line on taxes.

Organizers also turned in on Tuesday about 305,000 more signatures than needed to force a recall election of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, totalling 845,000.

Separate efforts to recall the Republican leader in the state Senate and three other GOP senators also are turning in more than enough signatures to require elections

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Supporters of an unprecedented effort to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from office said they will turn in more than enough signatures Tuesday to force the Republican into a recall election barely a year into his first term.

Walker, however, has no plans to be anywhere near the Capitol when recall organizers submit their petitions. The governor is scheduled to be fundraising in New York at the time organizers say they will unload 3,000 pounds of paperwork from a truck and haul it into the state election board's offices.

The signature drive started two months ago, largely in reaction to a law pushed by the governor last year that ended nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Organizers say they have gathered far more than the 540,208 signatures required to force the election against both Walker and GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

Recall organizers Tuesday morning already had turned in 23 percent more signatures than necessary to force a recall election against state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican and staunch supporter of Walker's agenda. Petitions targeting three other GOP senators also were expected.

Democrats have been focused on the collection of signatures and have yet to coalesce around a candidate to challenge Walker in an election. The two most high profile possibilities -- former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl -- have repeatedly said they're not interested.

But as the recall effort now shifts to the verification stage, pressure will increase on Democratic candidates to step forward.

However, the verification process will take months and the recall election may not be until June or later. The Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in the state and is charged with reviewing the petitions, plans to ask a court later this week for more than 60 days to complete its process.

Walker, meanwhile, has been aggressively raising money and blanketing the airwaves with campaign ads, starting the night before recall petitions hit the streets in mid-November. He's also crisscrossed the country raising millions of dollars, taking full advantage of both the conservative rock star persona built as he put Wisconsin at the center of the national labor rights debate and a quirk in state law allowing those targeted for recall to ignore normal contribution limits until an election date is set.

There have been just two successful gubernatorial recalls in the nation's history -- against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.

But recalls have become common in Wisconsin since the political tumult of 2011 that saw Walker and Republicans pass a law effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The opposition started with massive protests and then grew into organized campaigns first to recall state senators and then Walker himself.

Last summer, six Republican state senators and three Democrats faced recall elections. Two Republicans lost, leaving the party with a narrow one-vote majority in the Senate.

The Walker recall couldn't officially be filed until after he had served a year in office, an anniversary that was hit earlier this month. The four senators targeted this year include Fitzgerald and three other Republican lawmakers who are midway through their first terms.

Walker argues that while some of the decisions he made last year to balance a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall were difficult, the state is in a better financial position and will prosper in the long run. The state Republican Party has hit on the same theme, portraying Walker as a "do something" governor. "It's not always popular," the mailing says, "but it's working."

Walker reported in mid-December that he'd already raised $5.1 million, with about half of that coming from out of state. He received $250,000 alone from Bob Perry, the Texas conservative who was one of the main financial backers behind the Swift Boat Veterans ads that attacked Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Democratic Party and union leaders say they're not concerned about not having someone actively running against Walker and trying to match his fundraising. In fact, they say it was part of their strategy.

"It forced Walker and his minions to run on their record and issues rather than to run against an announced Democratic candidate," said Marty Beil, president of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, the largest union of state workers. "That was part of the rationale through the whole recall petition collection process."

Walker's campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement that the governor's record will "stand in stark contrast to whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is."

Moderate Democrat state Sen. Tim Cullen has said he intends to take on Walker but has not made a formal announcement or been actively campaigning. He said he expects and welcomes a Democratic primary, which likely would be held in May, although the timing will be unclear until possible delays related to the signature verification process and any legal challenges are resolved.

"If there's not a primary, then who's actually deciding this?" Cullen said.

Walker and his allies say organized labor will decide the Democratic candidate. Public workers and their unions have been a driving force behind the recall, helping provide the manpower needed to circulate petitions.

Other potential candidates include Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker beat by 5 percentage points in 2010, retired Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, current U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach and state Rep. Peter Barca.


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