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Wisconsin (STOWI1) Governor Scott Walker will face a recall vote June 5 after officials in Madison cleared the way for an election, and Milwaukee’s mayor declared his candidacy.
The Government Accountability Board, meeting in the Capitol today, unanimously found that petition signatures seeking the recall of Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, both Republicans, met the standard. Walker, a 44-year-old whose opposition to unions touched off public fury, may become the third U.S. governor to be recalled from office.
The results mean that after a year of conflict marked by large and noisy demonstrations, votes to unseat an unprecedented nine lawmakers and millions in television advertising, the state known for progressive politics will get down to deciding whether to throw out the governor.
Staff attorney Michael Haas, saying the examination of the signatures was “not a task we relished,” said 900,939 were valid, well above the 540,208 required to authorize Walker’s ouster election. He said there was no evidence of fraud, although 26,115 names were struck -- including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Adolf Hitler.
The board, a nonpartisan panel of retired judges, took about 20 minutes to receive and consider the recommendations that its staff made yesterday.
A primary to determine opponents for those facing recalls will be held May 8.
In a related development, a federal judge in Madison ruled today that parts of the law that helped spark the recall drive are unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge William M. Conley said the requirement that most public-employee unions recertify annually violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection. The judge said the law creates an unsupportable distinction between “general employee” unions that are required to comply and exempt “public safety” unions.
The ruling intensified a day of partisan exchanges. Walker brought on the vote through “radical excesses and reckless use of power,” state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said in a statement from Milwaukee. “Wisconsin deserves an honest discussion about her future. Today’s actions ensure that this judgment will now be in the hands of the people.”
Protests erupted in February 2011 after the governor and the Republican-dominated Legislature imposed collective- bargaining restrictions on most public employees. Labor officials accused the state of union-busting, while Republicans said the limits would help local governments stay solvent.
The state board already authorized recall elections against four Republican senators -- Scott Fitzgerald, Pam Galloway, Van H. Wanggaard and Terry Moulton, to be held June 5. Galloway subsequently resigned.
Two Republicans who supported Walker’s changes were recalled in August.
The Friends of Scott Walker Campaign said most Wisconsinites will stick with him.
“Voters are not prepared to reverse the tremendous progress the governor has made by prematurely ending his term,” the campaign said in a statement from Madison.
The recall drive may break spending records. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign projects a collective outlay of $60 million to $80 million. By contrast, Walker and his Democratic opponent together spent $37.4 million on their 2010 campaigns.
“Politics mobilizes and politicizes people,” said John McAdams, a political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “I expect turnout to be pretty high.”
The Republican Governors Association is running television ads attacking Democrat Kathleen Falk, the former Dane County executive and an announced Walker challenger.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat whom Walker defeated in the 2010 governor’s race, declared his candidacy hours after the elections board ordered the recall. Barrett, in a statement from his office, said Walker has “divided our state like never before.”
The Wisconsin Democratic Party has run ads linking an investigation of former Walker aides in Milwaukee County, where he previously served as executive, to former President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, calling it “Walkergate.”
That inquiry has led to assertions that the aides performed political work on government time. While Walker has said he doesn’t believe he is a target of the investigation, he has established a fund for legal expenses.
Only two U.S. governors have been recalled: Gray Davis of California in 2003, and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921.
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