The petition drive to recall and remove Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has surpassed all expectations in its first two weeks, collecting more than 300,000 signatures.
The truly remarkably thing about the total so far is not, however, that it is so large.
What is truly remarkable is where the signatures are coming from: rural and small-town Wisconsin communities are contributing disproportionally high numbers of signatures to the total.
No one, not even the most concerned critic of Governor Walker’s assault on collective bargaining rights, expected the recall campaign would move as quickly as it has.
No one expected United Wisconsin’s recall drive to gather more than half the required signatures in less than two weeks of petitioning. No one expected whole counties to reach their signature goals in the first week. No one expected conservative communities in Republican regions of the state to take the lead in collecting recall signatures against a Republican governor.
But it is happening.
Wisconsin has one of the highest thresholds in the nation for recalling statewide officials. Citizens must gather signatures equaling 25 percent of the turnout in the previous gubernatorial election. That’s a baseline requirement of 540,000 signatures. And they must be collected in just sixty days. (Of course, to avoid challenges, a “cushion” of additional signatures is needed.)
In California—the last state where a governor was successfully recalled—citizens only had to gather signatures equaling 12 percent of the turnout in the last election, and they had 160 days to do it.
How could Wisconsin reach a threshold that was twice as high in less than half the time? Not by building a movement rooted only in liberal precincts of the state capital city of Madison, as the governor and his amen corner keep claiming. And not by relying merely on Democrats.
To be successful, the recall drive against Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch had to attract support from independents and Republicans. And that is precisely what is happening.
As Steve Smith, a boiler operator at Wisconsin’s Southern Center for the Developmentally Disabled, explained while he gathered petition signatures on Thanksgiving morning in Burlington, “A lot of the people who are working the hardest on this recall aren’t big Democrats. I voted Democrat and Republican. And a lot of the people who are signing the petitions say they voted for Walker. So this goes way beyond Democrats.”
Smith’s point is a critical one.
Burlington, a Racine County city that voted for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and John McCain, has a booming recall movement. Indeed, while Barack Obama received 2,424 votes in Burlington in 2008 (compared with McCain’s 2,567), local recall activists had already collected 2,500 signatures from the Burlington area in the first two weeks of the eight-week drive.