When the United Wisconsin movement set out to recall and remove Governor Scott Walker, they set exceptionally high standards.
They trained tens of thousands of volunteers.
They set up a meticulous review process for petitions so that dubious signatures were identified quickly and addressed. Signers were called and asked to clarify information that was incorrect. If they could not, their names were struck.
Even then, more than 150,000 petition sheets were reviewed once more to assure that they were properly prepared. Finally, on January 17, after two months of morning, noon and night work, the United Wisconsin campaign filed more than 1 million signatures to recall Walker—along with 840,000 to recall Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and almost 100,000 more signatures to recall four state senators.
The petition gathering and review process was meticulous. It was demanding work, and it was done by volunteers: retirees, students, small business owners and teachers, nurses, doctors, bus drivers and firefighters.
This was classic grassroots politics—played out in an age of big money and big media.
And it worked.
The confirmation of the success of the petition drive, which was never really in doubt, came from none other than Scott Walker.
On Monday, Walker’s campaign announced that the governor will not file challenges—which were due today—against any of the signatures filed against him.
Walker’s campaign is still trying to help groups associated with a so-called "Verify the Recall" project, which is backed by state and national right-wing groups, to gain standing to challenge sigantures. In addition to a demand that the state Government Accountability Board identify and strike duplicate and clearly ficticious -- something the board says it will do -- the governor's campaign argued in a filing with the GAB that the agency should act on complaints filed by groups associated with the "Verify the Recall" project -- even though those complaints might come from individuals who are not citizens of Wisconsin.
A GAB spokesman explained Monday that the agency isn't allowed to consider third-party challenges under state law. Challenges are supposed to come from the targeted candidate and his or her campaign. Notably, under Wisconsin law, Walker and his campaign are not allowed to coordinate political activities with supposedly independent groups like those involved with the "Verify the Recall" project.
But what is really notable is the decision of the governor and his campaign not to lead the charge to disqualify the recall.
That's a big deal. The governor's attorney acknowledges that the Walker campaign reviewed 350,000 signatures. If they had found a pattern of problematic petitions, it is hard to imagine that the governor -- who regularly decries the recall as "frivilous" -- would not have raised loud objections.
Instead, the governor is standing down and suggesting that others should do the work.
The governor’s aides claim they won’t challenge signatures because there is not enough time to review the 150,000 petition pages.
But that’s silly. As one of the governor’s Democratic challengers, Kathleen Falk, said: “Gov. Walker has had plenty of time to review the signatures, but he’s been spending his time crisscrossing the country raising money from out-of-state millionaires and billionaires and lining up lawyers to defend him in the John Doe investigation about corruption in his county executive office.”
In fact, Walker and his supporters have had months to prepare for the review process. The petitions were filed January 17, which means that almost a month and a half has passed since the Walker campaign should have moved into high gear.
That’s almost as much time as it took United Wisconsin activists to collect, review, double-check and file the signatures.
The Walker campaign got more time to complete its review. A Dane County judge granted Walker a twenty-day extension beyond the ten days allotted under state law. That gave Walker more time than targeted candidates usually get, which is appropriate.
But now the Walker campaign complains that “we faced an impossible timeline.”
In reality, the governor and his supporters—after denigrating the recall campaign for months—have effectively acknowledged that it is credible and strong. And that there are going to be more than enough signatures to force a new election.
The Walker campaign may yet file further legal challenges. They could yet seek an extension from another judge, or they could rely on challenges from other targeted Republicans to slow down the process. And the Verify the Recall effort could still yield delays.
But the governor’s decision could set the stage for the Government Accountability Board to complete the review of the gubernatorial petitions, along with reviews of the recalls for other offices. That process is likely to be complete by March 19, at which point the GAB can set a timeline for the new elections.
If Walker’s campaign continues to stand down—and there is no certainty that this will be the case—the primary election for governor could come in late April, although the more likely date is May 1. The general election pitting a Democratic challenger against Walker would be four weeks late, perhaps as soon as May 29.