Updated January 17, 4:45 p.m. ET
Wisconsin Democrats announced Tuesday that they have collected over a million signatures to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker — nearly twice the 540,208 signatures, or 25 percent of the total votes in the previous election for governor, needed to trigger a new election.
The petitions are being submitted today to the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections. This will in turn set off a lengthy review process by state officials, before an election can go forward later in the year. But given the very large number of signatures that are well beyond the already high threshold, and the state’s recent history of recalls in the state Senate, it seems a safe bet that an election will occur.
The state last year achieved national fame (or infamy), for Walker’s legislation stripping public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights — and the waves of protests that filled the state Capitol and other locations, followed by a summer of state Senate recall campaigns that attracted tens of millions of dollars in political spending.
The Democrats had to wait longer to target Walker for recall, however, because the state constitution’s recall section requires that an elected official have served at least the first year of their term. And now, the state is set to potentially become the second most heated and politically consequential election of the year, below only the presidential race.
Later in the afternoon, Walker released this statement:
Governor Scott Walker Issues Statement on Pending Recall Election
“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. In my first year in office, we did just that by eliminating a $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes; all while the state added thousands of new jobs. 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.”
The Democrats are boasting that they have not only surpassed the 25% threshold to trigger a recall — but have collected signatures totaling 46% of the electorate in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
TPM asked the state party about a possible skeptical objection: That the total of just over one million signatures is actually very similar to the 1,004,303 votes that Democratic nominee Tom Barrett had already received in the 2010 election, which he lost to Walker. Thus, someone might wonder, have they expanded their base to oppose Walker?
State party chair Mike Tate told us in response that there are still more voters to be found: “This total is enormous, but represents only a portion of the people opposed to Scott Walker’s radical, divisive agenda, only a fraction of the people who want to see him out of office.”
The Dems are also submitting separate petitions for: Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (845,000 signatures, showing some amount of drop-off from the Walker papers, but still well above the same 540,208 threshold); State Sen. Pam Galloway; State Sen. Terry Moulton; State Sen. Van Wanggaard; and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (who was not originally a top target of the state party, but against whom the local Walker-recall organizers took the extra initiative).
In their announcement, the party boasted of numerous measurements of the total collection of petitions: That they number 300,000 pages, weighing a total of 3,000 pounds — or two Holstein milk cows, in this dairy-producing state.
As a percentage of the electorate, it also surpasses the 32% that Ohio Democrats collected last year to trigger a referendum against Gov. John Kasich’s similar anti-public employee union bill — and in the previous two gubernatorial recalls in American history, the 23.4% collected against Gov. Gray Davis in California in 2003, and the 31.8& against Gov. Lynn Joseph Frazier in North Dakota in 1921.
In addition to the review process for petitions, the Dems have another task on their hand: Getting a candidate. Recalls in Wisconsin do not feature any direct up-or-down vote on the incumbent, but instead effectively take the form of a special election with the incumbent and a challenger fighting it out to serve the rest of the term.
During the signature collection process, the party’s open preference was to keep the political focus on Walker. Therefore, maneuvering by potential candidates remained very much behind the scenes. But now that the petitions are being turned in, the time should not be long until they start to come forward.
Many Democratic names have been talked about as potential candidates, including but not limited to: State Sen. Tim Cullen (who has openly said he will run in a primary); Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (who was previously Walker’s Democratic opponent in 2010); former U.S. Rep. David Obey; state Sen. Jon Erpenbach; former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and state Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.
A survey released today by Public Policy Polling (D) showed that Barrett would start out as a frontrunner, but that the race could still be fairly wide open.