Only months ago Wisconsin’s union-busting Gov. Scott Walker seemed to feel he was on the path to becoming another President Ronald Reagan. But now it sounds as if he’s more likely to be on the path to becoming another California Gov. Gray Davis, the Governor recalled by voters in 2003:
Critics of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin submitted to the state on Tuesday more than a million signatures, nearly twice as many as required, on recall petitions against him to force a new election.
State election officials now begin the arduous, expensive process of studying the petitions for flaws and duplicated names. But leaders of the recall effort said the number of signatures was so large as to put any serious legal challenge out of reach. The anti-Walker forces needed 540,208 names and had estimated that they would produce at least 720,000, so the still larger number came as a surprise to many.
Barring a legal fight, Mr. Walker, a Republican who took office a year ago and set off a firestorm by curtailing collective bargaining rights for public workers, will face a new election in the late spring or early summer. Around the country, only two governors have ever been removed through recall.
“This sends a message,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, who described the one million names as evidence that this was the largest signature drive, in terms of the percentage of the state’s electorate signing, for a recall effort in United States history.
Mr. Walker was attending a fund-raiser in New York on Tuesday, but had said earlier that a recall election appeared inevitable.
“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,” Mr. Walker said in a statement released by his campaign office as the petitions — all 3,000 pounds of them — were being delivered to state officials with great fanfare. He added later, “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.”
Indeed recall organizers on Tuesday also submitted what they said were enough recall petitions to force four Republican state senators, including Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, into special elections defending their seats later this year.
The elections could tip the balance of power in the state Senate, where Republicans currently hold a 17-16 majority.
But they may also provide an early glimpse of how closely fought the 2012 presidential race will be in key Midwestern states like Wisconsin, where voters backed Barack Obama in 2008 but handed victories to Republicans in the 2010 midterms.
State Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) has said he will run against Walker if a recall election is held, and other Democrats are expected to get in the race. Potential candidates include Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in 2010; former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk; and former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey of Wausau.
Polling released Tuesday showed that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett leads all Democratic contenders in a possible primary to pick a challenger to Walker.
Barrett led Falk 46% to 27% in a survey released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling. Barrett was ahead of Obey 42% to 32% in a head-to-head matchup.
If the primary race were between just Obey and Falk, the former congressman would lead 43% to 28%, the poll found. If there was a primary involving all four Democrats, Barrett would lead that, too, according to the poll, with 26%, to 22% for Falk, 21% for Obey and 11% for Cullen.
The PPP poll surveyed 522 respondents Monday who said they were certain or likely to vote in a Democratic primary for governor and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The firm is aligned with Democrats, but its polling largely tracked the results in Wisconsin’s 2010 gubernatorial election.
Barrett issued a statement that said, “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. It’s time for a new direction that will heal our fractured state and move Wisconsin forward again.”
Falk said Walker should accept the election will happen.
“There should be no delaying tactics and legal tricks by Governor Walker and his allies to try to postpone the election. Let’s go,” Falk said.
Obey, who has been in state politics for a half-century, called the recall effort “an amazing development” but like Barrett and Falk declined to say whether he might run against Walker. Another possible candidate, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), also declined comment.
Cullen said he was still committed to run “until I’m elected governor or it doesn’t make any more sense to run. Right now, it still makes sense.”
Clearly, with stakes this high each side is going to pull out all stops to try and make sure that this happens/doesn’t happen. And look for big bucks from outside $$$ sources to pour into each side. Look for left and right talk show hosts to make this a huge cause. Look for some blogs and websites to cover this and press their partisan cases.
The key question will be whether Walker misread his mandate from voters and there is intense buyer’s remorse. I suspect the fervor will be weighted more on the Democratic Party side on this one — which could help mobilize party members and sympathizers in the general election in November as well.
But this will be a field day — for lawyers.