Organizers of bid to recall Wisconsin governor face deadline

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2012 2:38 PM
Organizers of bid to recall Wisconsin governor face deadline

By Brendan O'Brien

MADISON (Reuters) - Organizers of a petition drive to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker vow to submit more than enough signatures this week to force the controversial first-term Republican to defend his seat in a special vote.

Recall officials said they expect to turn in far more than the 540,208 signatures required on Tuesday to the Government Accountability Board, a milestone in their effort to recall Walker and slow an agenda that hugely diminished the power of public unions.

If the board determines the required number of signatures has been gathered, it will call a recall election of Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

The grass-roots petition drive began in November, when thousands of volunteers armed with clipboards and petition forms spread across the state to gather signatures. By law, they had 60 days to do so.

If the GAB, the state agency charged with validating signatures, certifies the results, Walker will be forced to defend his seat in a special election this year.

No Democrat has emerged to run against him, although Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran for governor against Walker in 2010, and Secretary of State Doug La Follette have been mentioned as possible candidates.

Others include former congressman Dave Obey, state Senator Jon Erpenbach and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.

Only two governors in U.S. history have been successfully recalled -- California's Gray Davis in 2003 and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921.

Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature passed a raft of highly controversial measures last year, including strict limits on the union rights of public employees.

The anti-union measures triggered weeks of mass protests in Madison and a fierce political backlash from Democrats and union supporters.

Walker defended the measures as necessary to address a budget gap and to make Wisconsin attractive to employers.

Backing his agenda, which also included passage of voter identification and looser gun laws, six Republican senators and Walker allies faced recall last summer.

Of those, two lost their seats to Republican challengers.

Along with the governor and lieutenant governor, as many as 17 state senators -- 11 Republicans and six Democrats -- could face recall elections this year in Wisconsin.

The contests could tip the balance of power in the state senate, where Republicans hold a slim 17-16 majority.

On Friday, organizers of a separate effort to recall Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald filed what they said were enough signatures to force the Republican to defend his seat in a special election.

Fitzgerald has filed a complaint with the GAB, claiming recall organizers took too long to collect signatures.

According to a GAB report, processing the Walker recall petitions will cost the state more than $650,000, including the purchase of software and staff time. The total cost of recall elections for the state and municipalities may be more than $9 million, according to estimates from GAB officials.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Ellen Wulfhorst)