Wisconsin Democrats Launch Governor Recall Effort

Nov 15, 2011
Originally published on November 16, 2011 8:39 am

Opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, upset about the governor's move last spring to curb collective-bargaining rights for many public employees, are circulating petitions Tuesday in a campaign to recall him from office.

The Republican's critics will need to collect their signatures in the next 60 days.

On a recent weekday evening, about a dozen people gathered at a small clubhouse on Milwaukee's east side. These middle-aged men and women came to be trained on how to circulate petitions to get the signatures needed to recall Walker. The mere mention Walker's name sparks a visceral negative reaction among them.

For retired police officer John Harrington, the anger runs deep. He says he opposes the state's new law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.

"The voter ID thing bothered me a whole lot," he said. "Besides, I've had a lifelong aversion to anybody that beats up on people. I don't like bullies. I don't like bullies with money who have an office."

Harrington is one of thousands of people who have been trained in the past few weeks to circulate recall petitions.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate says petitioners will fan out in the state's 72 counties.

"You're going to see them everywhere," he said. "You'll have people outside the parking lots of shopping malls over the holiday season. There will be people at the deer-cleaning stands during deer hunting.

"We're going to be in every aspect of Wisconsin life wherever there's people."

Challenge To Effort

Tate is shooting for 700,000 signatures, though only 500,000 valid ones will be needed. But getting those signatures in this sharply divided state may pose a bit of a challenge.

Matt Warner, a former truck driver, says he supports the governor's budget cuts and won't sign the petition to force a recall election.

"I think what he's trying to do is a decent thing," he said. "Without sounding cliche, you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Generally speaking, when you're trying to pull off this kind of trick, you've got to make some hard decisions, and not everybody's going to be happy with it."

Walker's allies are already beginning to fight back.

Television viewers in some parts of the state are seeing ads in support of the governor.

History does appear to be on Walker's side. Only two governors have ever been recalled: North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier was kicked out of office in 1921, and California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

Gary Moncrief, who teaches political science at Boise State University, says Wisconsin petitioners have to gather signatures equal to 25 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

"In California, I believe it's 12 percent of the people who voted in the last election," he said. "Proportionately, about half as many people in California had to sign a petition as do in Wisconsin."

But momentum for recall appears to be building — especially after Ohio voters rejected collective-bargaining restrictions at the polls just last week.

Officials in Wisconsin say they recruited 8,000 people to circulate petitions in their effort to gather the 500,000 valid signatures needed to force the recall election next spring.

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When Wisconsin's Republican governor succeeded last spring in curbing the collective bargaining rights of public employees he made a lot of people mad. Now opponents of Scott Walker are circulating petitions in a campaign to recall him from office. Marti Mikkelson of member station WUWM reports.

MARTI MIKKELSON, BYLINE: It's just after work on a recent weekday and about a dozen people are gathering at a small clubhouse on Milwaukee's east side.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hi. You here for the training, too?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes.

MIKKELSON: These middle aged men and women are here to be trained on how to circulate petitions to get the signatures needed to recall Governor Scott Walker. Nathaniel Haack is with the group United Wisconsin that's coordinating this petition drive.

NATHANIEL HAACK: I would like to go around in a circle and get all of your names and why you want to recall Scott Walker.

MIKKELSON: The mere mention of Scott Walker's name sparks a visceral negative reaction in this group. For retired police officer John Harrington, the anger runs deep.

JOHN HARRINGTON: The voter ID thing bothered me a whole lot. Besides, I've had a lifelong aversion to anybody that beats up on people. I don't like bullies. I don't like bullies with money who have an office.

MIKKELSON: Harrington is one of thousands of people who've been trained in the past few weeks to circulate recall petitions. Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate says petitioners will fan out in all 72 counties.

MIKE TATE: You're going to see them everywhere, you know. I think that you'll have people outside the parking lots of shopping malls over the holiday season. There'll be people at the deer cleaning stands over deer hunting. You know, we're really going to be in every aspect of Wisconsin life wherever there's people.

MIKKELSON: Tate is shooting for 700,000 signatures, though only a half million valid ones will be needed. But getting those signatures in this sharply divided state may pose to be a bit of a challenge.

Matt Warner is sipping coffee at a cafe in Shorewood, just north of Milwaukee. The 39-year-old former truck driver says he supports the governor's budget cuts and won't sign a petition to force a recall election.

MATT WARNER: I just think what he's trying to do is a decent thing. You know, without sounding cliche, you're going to have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Generally speaking, when you're trying to pull off this kind of trick you've got to, you know, you got to make some hard decisions, and not everybody's going to be happy with it.

MIKKELSON: But a trick is exactly what some Wisconsin residents think was played on them because Walker didn't campaign on the union cuts last year. Already, Walker's allies are beginning to fight back. Television viewers in some parts of the state are already seeing ads in support of the governor, such as this one sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV ADVERTISEMENT)

MIKKELSON: History does appear to be on Walker's side. Only two governors have ever been recalled: North Dakota's Governor Lynn Frazier, who was kicked out of office in 1921. And more recently, California Governor Gray Davis, who was recalled in 2003.

Gary Moncrief teaches political science at Boise State University. He says Wisconsin petitioners have to gather signatures equal to 25 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

GARY MONCRIEF: In California, I believe it's 12 percent of the people who voted in the last election. So, proportionately, about half as many people in California had to sign a petition as in Wisconsin.

MIKKELSON: But, momentum for recall appears to be building. That's especially true after Ohio voters rejected collective bargaining restrictions at the polls just last week. Officials in Wisconsin say they've recruited 8,000 people to circulate petitions in their effort to gather the half-million valid signatures needed to force Governor Scott Walker to face a recall election next spring.

For NPR News, I'm Marti Mikkelson in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.