Petitions with the names of 1 million Wisconsinites were submitted to state elections officials today, in a move that will jump-start the process of removing the nation’s most notorious antilabor governor from office.
A total of 540,208 valid signatures are required to recall Scott Walker, the Republican governor, who was elected in 2010. On Tuesday afternoon, the United Wisconsin movement that was organized to recall and remove the governor submitted almost twice that number.
"The people have spoken loud and clear and we are ready to put an early end to Governor Walker’s reign," announced Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt.
In addition to the 1 million signatures seeking Walker's recall, petitions with 845,000 signatures were submitted to force the recall of Republican Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.
Petitions were also filed to recall four Republican state senators: Terry Moulton in northwest Wisconsin, Pam Galloway in north-central Wisconsin, Van Wangaard in southeast Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Walker's legislative point man in the struggle last year over the governor's move last year to strip collective bargaining rights from state, county and municipal employees and teachers. If just one of the four senators is recalled and removed, control of the chamber will shift from the Republicans to the Democrats—who picked up two seats in recall elections last summer.
In all, close to 2 million signatures were submitted Tuesday, building the historic in-the-streets popular uprising that rocked Wisconsin in 2012 into a electoral uprising that has the potential to rock the politics not just of the state but of the nation in 2012.
The movement to oust Walker will have secured the support of a higher percentage of eligible voters than has ever before sought to recall an American governor.
No other gubernatorial recall drive in American history has gathered the signatures of so large a proportion of the electorate. The total number of signatures submitted Tuesday represents 46 percent of the turnout in the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial election. That compares with 23.4 percent that signed the petitions that initiated the successful recall of California Governor Gray Davis in 2003 and 31.8 percent that signed petitions to recall North Dakota Governor Lynn Frazier in 1921.
The figures are ominous for Walker, whose poll numbers collapsed after he attacked the collective bargaining rights of state, county and municipal workers and teachers in a move last winter that provoked mass demonstrations. Neither Walker nor his foes now express serious doubts about the prospect that Wisconsin’s high standard for forcing a recall election will be met.
Petitioners were required to gather 25 percent of the total turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election—540,208 valid signatures—to trigger a new election. That election could take place as early as this spring, although the precise date will not be determined until the petitions have been reviewed and certified by the state Government Accountability Board.
Because the petitions will have so many more signatures that the required number, the likelihood is that opponents of Walker’s agenda—which includes assaults on collective bargaining rights, voting rights and open government, as well as devastating cuts in funding for public education and local services—will see challenges by the Walker campaign and its team of election law specialists. The process will, of course, take time—the better part of two months to complete all the procedures for reviewing signatures, and perhaps longer than that if the Walker team seeks to delay things. But most indications are that the challenges raised by Walker and his agents will be acts of political theater and strategy, rather a serious threat to the recall process.
That is because these petitions were not be casually submitted; they have been meticulously collected, reviewed and prepared for submission by 25,000 volunteers with the United Wisconsin movement. While some signatures will undoubtedly be disqualified in the review process, and by the Walker team’s challenges, even Republican election observers quietly acknowledge that the petitions are likely to pass muster.
The fact that the recall drive has submitted petitions with a far greater number of signatures than is required represents, in and of itself, a monumental message for the governor and his minions, as well as the pundit class that so doubted the depth and breadth of the Wisconsin democracy movement.
How monumental is that message?
The number of signatures submitted is greater than will be more than the total number of Wisconsinites who participated in any gubernatorial election from 1848, the year Wisconsin achieved statehood, until women were allowed to vote in 1920.
The number of signatures is more than voted for Wisconsin’s most revered and popular governors in the elections that elevated each of them to the state’s top job: Robert M. La Follette (1900), Phil La Follette (1930), Gaylord Nelson (1958), Patrick Lucey (1970), Lee Sherman Dreyfus (1978), Tommy Thompson (1986) or Jim Doyle (2006) .
If is more than the combined number of voters who participated in the 2010 Republican and Democratic primaries for governor of Wisconsin.
It is more than the number of votes cast for Walker’s Democratic opponent (Tom Barrett) in the hotly contested 2010 election. And it barely 100,000 less than the total vote Walker secured in winning the 2010 race.
Wisconsin’s Constitution and statutes establish one of the more demanding sets of requirements in the nation for forcing a recall election. And the number of signatures gathered will far exceed the central requirement. To have simply gotten 540,208 signatures would have been remarkable. To gather almost double that number is unprecedented.
But, says former Congressman David Obey, D-Wisconsin, "What is [really] unprecedented is the way that the governor and his allies ran roughshod over normal legislative and political procedures. He’s abused the very process that elected him and that’s what’s got people so angry.”
That said, the recall movement still has a race to run. It will be long, nasty and expensive. The governor is already raising money from the same wealthy Texans who funded the “Swift Boat” ads that attacked Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in 2004 and that funded Rick Perry’s lavish—if not particularly successful—presidential campaign this year.
But this recall drive is already the greatest popular democracy movement in Wisconsin history, and one of the greatest challenges to political power in American history.
The signals could not be stronger.
The Wisconsin democracy movement is real.
And Scott Walker should be afraid, very afraid, of the opposition he has unleashed in a state where it is now clear that the people are prepared to defend their rights, and their future.
Follow John Nichols on Twitter: @NicholsUprising