The dust just settled after a series of heated state Senate recall elections over the summer, but those were just the prelude to the main event.
On Tuesday, recall organizers officially launched their campaign against their top target — Republican Gov. Scott Walker — and the clock is now ticking to gather enough signatures to force an election in 2012.
United Wisconsin, a coalition of grassroots organizations throughout the state, is spearheading the effort to put Walker’s agenda to a vote next year. Thousands of people already placed their names on petitions Tuesday, and organizers have 60 days to gather the 540,000 signatures needed to force a recall election.
Walker now finds himself facing a reality he never considered.
“Not in a million years did I think I would be here,” Walker told Charlie Sykes on his radio talk show on Newsradio 620 Tuesday morning.
In talking with friends during the Packers game Monday night, Walker said they made an “interesting observation” — during his time in office, he has merely accomplished the things he set out to do during his campaign and, his friends said, he’s being rewarded with a recall.
“We’re looking at moving the state forward, (but) you’ve got a select few that are more interested in chaos,” Walker told Sykes.
The quest to 540,000 begins
Collecting 540,000 signatures is indeed a big challenge, but Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the enthusiasm and coordination is present in the state to make it happen. Only two governors have been successfully recalled in American history, but he hopes to add number three to that list.
“Recalls are not usually successful because you need a heck of a lot of man and woman power to do it. You're going to end up with that enthusiasm and appetite here precisely because of what Walker has done to Wisconsin,” Zielinski said while outside the Milwaukee recall headquarters.
Zielinski said petitioning locations large and small throughout the state had people in line ready to sign petitions at the stroke of midnight. Zielinksi said the momentum continued throughout the day, and added that there will be hundreds of events throughout the state in the next 60 days to generate support and gather signatures for the effort.
“There's going to be potlucks, pajama parties and bowling outings. We're going to be at deer cleaning stations on Black Friday. There will be plenty of places to hold Walker accountable,” he said.
As the day wrapped up Tuesday, Zielinski said he couldn't provide a number of how many signatures were collected the first day. However, he said: "We couldn't ask for a better day, and we've met and surpassed our goals."
What motivates volunteers?
Doris Black is a former Milwaukee Public Schools teacher who retired early after Walker implemented education reforms through the new collective-bargaining law known as Act 10. Rather than sitting back idly and enjoying a leisurely retirement, she got involved.
“I retired from MPS because of Scott Walker’s plan to run teachers out early. I’m mad. I’m upset — to say the least,” Black said.
As a volunteer, Black said the Milwaukee recall campaign offices have been a steady stream of activity throughout the day on Tuesday — and even before that. She said a lot of union workers, community activists, parents and state workers are part of the diverse group that has joined the effort in Milwaukee.
“People are sick and tired of the lies that have gone on. They’re tired of Scott Walker taking bribes from big business,” Black said.
To kickoff the campaign Tuesday in Milwaukee, Lisa Tareski placed the first signature on a petition.
Tareski won a contest held by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to have her signature in the top spot of the monumental stack of petitions that will be sent to the state Government Accountability Board for verification.
"People are sick and tired of the lies..."
Tareski said she voted for Walker in the gubernatorial election in 2010 — not because she supported his policies, but to get him out of Milwaukee County where she lives, and where Walker previously served as county executive.
Tareski, who comes from a family of union employees, said it’s an honor to have her name placed on in the top spot of the petitions that will be submitted.
“I regret my vote,” Tareski said. “Having my name at the top is kind of a slap in the face to him.”
But can they do it?
While those behind the recall realize the challenge that lies ahead, they are confident in their ability to grab enough signatures to successfully force a recall election — and it seems the experts have their backs, too.
Dennis Dresang, professor emeritus of political science at University of Wisconsin's La Follette School of Public Affairs said the effort to recall Walker is strikingly different than the Senate recalls in summer.
Most of the recall campaigns were held in Senate districts that were predominantly Republican. Now, in a statewide recall campaign, dyed-in-blue Democratic districts throughout the state will also get a chance to sign petitions, and vote — if it comes to that.
“The fact that Democrats won two of those elections in summer is something worth taking note of,” Dresang said. “Now we’ll have votes in both highly Republican districts and Democratic districts.”
Dresang said United Wisconsin got a good head start on the signature gathering process after more than 200,000 people pledged to sign one on the group’s website. He added that recent polling shows a majority of the state is still in favor of recalling the governor.
UW-Madison political science professor Charles Franklin said there are three points to consider when debating whether this recall effort will see success.
First, going back to the recent Senate recall efforts: the summer recall was able to obtain an average of 20,000 signatures in each of the nine Senate districts facing a recall; if that same success is seen in the 33 districts throughout the state, that equates to 660,000 signatures, or roughly 120,000 more than needed to recall Walker, he said.
“I think that’s the best reason to say there’s some actual evidence that says, ‘Well … yeah — maybe this is not out of reach,”’ Franklin said.
The second point to consider is the large amount of organization required to pull of a recall of this size, he said.
“There’s a lot of training for those signature gatherers to get it done right,” Franklin said, adding that he believes the pro-recall people have done an excellent job at getting this framework in place.
Finally, Franklin said the time frame is something of importance, not the 60-day recall period but rather the fact that those 60 days fall over the holidays. Recallers have hinted toward efforts being focused around shopping malls and other places busier because of the holidays, something they are hoping will boost signatures. Franklin isn’t sure yet whether it will actually help boost signatures, but he is sure the holidays will have an impact.
Though 540,000 signatures is a huge number, Franklin put it into a different perspective: Tom Barrett garnered just more than 1 million votes statewide in his run against Walker, meaning the recall effort only needs to collect signatures from about 60 percent of those voters to be successful.
But the big question for any political expert on Tuesday: Will organizers get enough signatures?
“I would put money on it and say they will,” Dresang said.
Republicans: Recall effort 'shouldn’t have happened'
Republican Party of Waukesha County Chairman Don Taylor said the recall effort is waste of a variety of resources.
“I deplore the perpetual election cycle that the Democrats and the unions are forcing on the state of Wisconsin," he said. "It’s very time consuming, it’s very labor consuming and it’s very expensive … it is something that shouldn’t have happened."
Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Glenn Grothman — who dodged a recall when not enough signatures were raised to force an election — doesn’t think there are enough people wanting to see money spent on yet another expensive election.
“I would be surprised if in these times people would want to spend millions of dollars on an unnecessary election,” he said.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin stands behind Walker and all his accomplishments in the state since taking office.
“Governor Walker balanced a $3.6 billion budget deficit, saved millions of dollars for school districts and municipalities around the state, improved Wisconsin’s economic climate which has yielded nearly 30,000 new private sector jobs to date, and has done it all without raising taxes,” said Nicole Larson, a spokeswoman for the group.
The mudslinging begins
The recall elections this summer were not only historic, but were also a highly visible platform for a storm of political mudslinging from both sides. Don’t expect much to change this time either. In fact, it’s already began.
Zielinski made headlines in summer after with the election results in the 8th Senate District - a statement that was quickly retracted. On Tuesday, he said they are on high alert for the “dirty tricks” Republicans may play.
"Scott Walker and his cronies are trying to intimidate people. They can't defend his record so they are trying to intimidate people with illegal acts,” Zielinski said.
Zielinksi said Democrats have uploaded more than 215 affidavits of "actual" recall fraud that the Republicans committed in summer. He said the party also has filed a complaint with the state claiming Republicans have recently attempted to destroy petitions and sell confusion.
On Monday, , and organizers immediately claimed the "attack" was “deliberate and coordinated in its target.” The FBI and the Wisconsin attorney general's office has been asked to investigate, the group said.
Taylor said he hasn’t heard of any efforts to sabotage the recall, and said the Republican Party of Waukesha County would definitely not be behind such actions.
“The Republican Party of Waukesha County would not condone any kind of illegal sabotage efforts. … we’re above all that,” Taylor said. “Obviously, we’re supporting Gov. Walker as well as the three state senators that are under attack, and probably the bulk of our effort and expenses will take place if and when the recalls are established.”
Taylor said he’s heard that the Obama Administration asked the Democratic recall organizers not to go through with the effort — something the group obviously didn’t pay attention to. Taylor points to separate offices in Waukesha — a headquarters for the Obama campaign and a separate office for the Recall Walker campaign — as an indication that the two ideas are not working together.
Either way, it’s going to be prudent to fasten your safety belts as the next few months unfold.
Dresang said there’s little doubt that money from outside groups on both sides will trickle into the state as the recall effort ramps up over the next few months. He also said it should come as no surprise if the courts are soon filled with legal challenges to stall the process.
“You’ll have litigation either way, there’s no doubt about that,” Dresang said.
More on the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker
- A blog on JSOnline.com has a number of polls showing Walker’s approval and disapproval rates holding relatively steady since March, with approval rates in the low 40 percentile and disapproval rates in the low 50 percentile.
- A photogallery on Patch .
- A controversial rally . While no streets were blocked off, .
- Just hours before the official start of the drive to, the group spearheading the effort said that its website was the victim of a cyberattack on Monday.
- Just hours before the official start of the drive to, the group spearheading the effort, United Wisconsin, said that .
- A live blog on Patch .