After two months of flexing their volunteers' political muscles on the streets, Wisconsin Democrats delivered a powerful first punch in the recall rumble against Gov. Scott Walker today when they filed more than 1 million signatures to recall the first-term Republican governor.
Hundreds of recall supporters cheered in the street when Julie Wells, a coordinator of the recall effort in rural Jefferson County, threw up the cargo door of a U-Haul truck containing boxes of the signatures and congratulated the crowd for their two months of work gathering signatures all across the state.
“Despite the millions of dollars Walker has raised and spent, we have overcome…We have proven that democracy is alive and kicking in the state of Wisconsin,” Wells said.
The boxes were ceremoniously delivered box by box into the state's Government Accountability Board, which will verify the accuracy of the signatures before ordering a recall election against Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four other Republican senators that were targeted in the effort. A total of 1.9 million signatures were filed against Republican legislators today, with 845,000 of those collected for Kleefisch.
The success of the recall effort is an indication of "how strong the appetite is to stop the damage and turmoil that Gov. Walker has caused in Wisconsin," said Ryan Lawler, the vice chairman of United Wisconsin, the group that led the recall effort.
“What we have accomplished is incredible," Lawler said. "This is one of the greatest exercises of democracy in American history.”
The recall coordinators only needed to collect 540,208 signatures to force the recall election. For the recall election to be denied, one of every three signatures would need to be invalid.
The number of signatures collected represents more than 46 percent of the voters that voted in the 2010 gubernatorial election – a number that tops the participation level of the only two other statewide recall efforts in the country's history. This is the first-ever statewide recall election in Wisconsin.
Many of the coordinators of the Walker recall effort said they were surprised to see a total of more than 1 million signatures collected, despite the success they were seeing locally.
"We've known all along that we are making history, but we didn't know how much this history means," said Sue Gootson, a volunteer coordinator in conservative Walworth County. "The country and the world are watching what we are doing today."
"It was an amazing coming together of people, many whom have never been involved in politics before," added Richard Schwalb, a coordinator in Milwaukee County.
No candidate yet
Although no Democratic candidates have formally announced their intentions to run, there is a long list of names being floated around in the media.
A new poll shows Walker's rival in the 2010 gubernatorial election, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, is leading in the polls. But at least one expert says the election will be decided based on Walker's popularity – not the candidate that runs against him.
"It doesn't really matter who you put up against Walker, because voters pretty much made up their mind a year ago," said Dennis Dresang, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin's La Follette School of Public Affairs.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate said a primary seems likely, and he thinks it could be a positive thing for the party.
"You'll have candidates traveling across the state for six or plus weeks...I think it will be a positive campaign focused on Scott Walker's failures," he said.
Road to recall
Under state statute, the state's Government Accountability Board has 31 days to verify the signatures and order the recall election to be held six weeks later. Kevin Kennedy, the Director of the state's Government Accountability Board, already said he plans to file for an extension in court to give his staff more time to verify the 1.9 million signatures. He said he does not yet know how long of an extension he will request.
Kennedy said his staff will flag any obviously fictitious names for further inspection. The names will be inspected for duplication and published on the agency's website when they have been scanned. Walker will also have the opportunity to challenge the signatures.
Tate said the Democrats have made an effort to flag invalid signatures to the best of their ability, but he said he expects some invalid signatures will be found in the process. Just over 9 percent of the signatures submitted in last year's recall election against Republican state senators were invalidated, and he said he has no reason to believe that percentage would be higher in this recall election.
"We very clearly believe there is no challenge both legal or otherwise that will prevent things from going forward,” Tate said. “Scott Walker is going to be recalled. It’s just a matter of how long the Walker campaign and the Government Accountability Board want to drag out an election.”
Jeremy Levinson, an attorney representing the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in the recall effort, said the recall election should be triggered as soon as the number of signatures have been counted.
“The process is designed to decide whether the citizens of Wisconsin have gotten enough signatures to properly exercise their right to recall, and once that is determined, any further delay is a violation of the rights of those that signed the Walker petition and any of the other petitions,” Levinson said.
In a statement, Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brad Courtney called the recall effort "baseless" and "shameful," saying it will saddle Wisconsin taxpayers with more than $9 million in unbudgeted costs.
"Regardless of what the radical left may believe, Wisconsin families will continue to stand with Governor Walker, who has balanced a $3.6 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, and created thousands of new jobs,” he said.
Walker was fundraising in New York today, but in a statement, he said he expects to overcome the recall.
“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,” he said.