(Updates with comment from party official in fourth paragraph.)
Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Opponents of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker have about 1 million signatures on petitions to force a recall election, according to a state Democratic Party news release.
If the state’s Government Accountability Board rules that at least 540,208 are valid, and any legal challenges fail, Wisconsin will hold the third gubernatorial ouster vote in U.S. history to see whether the Republican politician keeps his job. Walker last year championed restrictions on bargaining by public-employee unions, prompting the recall after weeks of protests on the grounds of the Capitol in Madison.
Today’s filing will escalate a partisan war that has now raged 11 months and divided a state with a history of progressive politics. Voters in August ousted two senators who voted for Walker’s collective-bargaining curbs, and now the governor, lieutenant governor and four Republican state senators face possible removal votes.
“Scott Walker will be recalled,” Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said in a news conference in Madison. “It’s just a matter of how long the GAB and Scott Walker will drag it out,”
The million people favoring a recall election for Walker compares with the 1.1 million votes that elected him in 2010.
Doing It Again
Walker, in an interview today over Milwaukee radio station WTMJ, called the effort “a baseless recall.”
“We’re going to get a chance to do what’s never been done before: be elected twice in the same term,” Walker said.
Democrats and union members also collected about 850,000 signatures to recall Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and 20,600 names to recall Senator Scott Fitzgerald, about 4,200 more than necessary. Also targeted are Republicans Senators Pam Galloway, Terry Moulton and Van Wanggaard.
The Accountability Board, which comprises six nonpartisan former state judges selected by a judicial panel, needs at least 60 days to verify the signatures. Kevin Kennedy, its director, said Jan. 12 he would need even more time to search for duplicate and fictitious names. The board has estimated the recall’s cost to be at least $9 million.
The signatures are contained in 300,000 pages and weigh 3,000 pounds, according to United Wisconsin, one of the recall groups. The petitions represent “a crystal clear indication of how strong the appetite is” to recall Walker, Ryan Lawler, a board member, said in a statement.
No Democratic candidate has emerged to challenge Walker.
“Regardless of what the radical left may believe, Wisconsin families will continue to stand with Governor Walker,” said Republican Party Chairman Brad Courtney in a prepared statement.
In 2011, the battle over public-employee union collective bargaining rights prompted recall campaigns in nine legislative districts and drew $44 million in contributions, most from out- of-state interests, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Madison.
The governor raised $7.6 million in anticipation of a recall, according to a Jan. 10 report filed with the board. He recently attended fundraisers in Washington and Austin, Texas.
Walker, 44, is a former Milwaukee County executive. He won election with 52 percent of the vote, defeating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The collective-bargaining changes he pushed through the Republican-dominated Legislature provoked tens of thousands to protest at the Capitol last February and March.
While Wisconsin, a state of 5.7 million people, has a 20th century history of progressivism embodied by Robert La Follette, the fiery U.S. senator who opposed World War I, railroad interests, and child labor, modern-day politics mirrors sharp national political divisions.
Walker is a champion of smaller government and reduced entitlements articulated by U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Recall campaigns would coincide with the presidential fight in Wisconsin, a perennial battleground. President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 with 56 percent of the vote, defeating Senator John McCain with 42 percent.
Only two U.S. governors have been recalled from office, Grey Davis of California in 2003, and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921.
--With assistance from Stephen Merelman in New York. Editors: Stephen Merelman, William Glasgall
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