Walker Opponents Collect Signatures For Recall

From the moment Gov. Scott Walker introduced his plan to curb public employee union bargaining rights, Walker's critics pledged they would recall him from office. Now they'll get their shot. Early Tuesday, Democrats began circulating petitions to try to force a recall election. And they're excited. But Republicans are hoping most people would rather move on.

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In Wisconsin, it's day one of an effort by Democrats and their allies to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker. The move comes after Walker introduced a plan in February to curb union bargaining rights for some public employees. Walker's opponents have 60 days to gather more than 540,000 signatures and force an election against the governor. As Wisconsin Public Radio's Shawn Johnson reports, they wasted no time getting started.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Forget waiting until sunrise to gather signatures. At a downtown bar in the heavily Democratic city of Madison last night, Governor Walker's opponents were awaiting the stroke of midnight. They signed their first recall petitions at 12:01 before breaking into anti-Walker chants.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING)

JOHNSON: Lynn Freeman is with a group called United Wisconsin that put together this event.

LYNN FREEMAN: You know, a lot of people said today it feels like Christmas Eve. And I identify with that sentiment. It feels like we've been on the - talking about this for a long time.

JOHNSON: Freeman's group was formed specifically to recall the governor after he moved against public employee unions here. Freeman says if you ask 10 different people in her group why they're doing this, you'll get 10 different answers. And while she talked up the importance of a recall, she downplays its historic nature.

FREEMAN: None of us who are not elected officials go four years without a job evaluation. A recall is simply the opportunity for the citizens of the state to say to an elected official, you need a job evaluation after one year in office. And this is it. This is a job evaluation of Scott Walker.

JOHNSON: But there's a reason a job evaluation like this has never happened in Wisconsin. Statewide recalls are purposely tough. Those circulating petitions have just 60 days to gather more than 540,000 signatures to force a recall election. That's a quarter of all votes cast in last year's gubernatorial election. University of Wisconsin polling expert Charles Franklin calls that an awful lot of signatures - under normal circumstances, probably too many. But Franklin says, activists may just get that many.

CHARLES FRANKLIN: If you'd asked me six months ago, I would have been more dubious. I think the organization they've put together to gather signatures is pretty impressive.

JOHNSON: And this isn't Wisconsin's first case of recall fever. Last summer, Democrats got more than enough signatures to force recall elections against six Republican state senators. Four of them won reelection, two were replaced by Democrats. Activists are also hoping for momentum from the recent win in Ohio, where voters rejected a collective bargaining law similar to the one Governor Walker signed. But Charles Franklin cautions Wisconsin's move is not a referendum. Getting the signatures only forces a special election against Walker.

FRANKLIN: If you're going to throw Walker out of office, you're throwing him out for a replacement of somebody.

JOHNSON: So far, Democrats have yet to decide who that somebody might be. But Governor Walker is already fighting back. He ran his first TV ad during last night's Green Bay Packers game.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV COMMERCIAL)

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER: You know, Wisconsin's best days are yet to come. It won't happen overnight, but we are on our way.

JOHNSON: While polls show Governor Walker's approval rating in the low to mid-40s, they also show that despite people's misgivings about him, a slim majority oppose a recall election. Walker told reporters yesterday he'd ask those people whether they want to spend the next several months in another campaign.

WALKER: When you look at the millions of dollars that we've spent just on conducting election by taxpayers' money, let alone the tens of millions that would come in from campaigns, I think most people don't want permit elections. I think they want us to get back to work.

JOHNSON: Whether or not that turns out to be true, the start of this recall petition actually benefits Walker's campaign. Wisconsin normally caps the amount supporters can give to political candidates, but so long as recall petitions are being circulated, those restrictions don't apply. For NPR News, I'm Shawn Johnson in Madison.

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