Siege mentality grips Wisconsin as organizers submit recall petitions
It seems it is always snowing when Wisconsin melts down into a big partisan battle, and that was the case Tuesday as workers with the liberal group United Wisconsin submitted boxes and boxes of petitions calling for a recall election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
The Dairy State is again deep in the throes of winter as the group's workers -- furious at the budget deal reached last year that limited collective bargaining and forced state employees to pay a portion of their health care -- await the release of figures indicating how many signatures the Democratic-organized effort collected.
"This is a really proud moment for us...it's not a party, this has been a really serious movement," Lori Compas, the recall petition leader, said.
"I can't believe we did it, but we did it! We got all the signatures," Dave Solstice, a petition drive volunteer, said. "Now we just need people to vote when it's on the ballot"
The group says it has collected double the 540,208 signatures required to force a recall -- one-quarter of the general election vote that put Walker into office. Even though some of the signatures are expected to be invalidated and discarded, Wisconsin Democrats have the comfort of a surplus in their second effort in the past year to drive a recall effort.
"They have already driven one round of recalls for Republican state senators," Wisconsin election law attorney Mike Wittenwyler told Fox News. "Whether you call it a test, training wheels whatever, I think people learned so that now when you get to this election and this recall process, the error rate is going to go down because they've gone through it once."
The group needed to wait until Walker had been in office for one year before submitting the petitions that will likely force the state's chief executive back onto the ballot as early as this summer.
Walker told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren he had seen the Democrat-backed recall petition coming for a while, but he is confident that he still has the people's support.
"They've been fighting our reforms all along," he said of union supporters. "In the end this is all about money. They want to force public employees and public servants in our state to sign up for the unions because they want their hands in the money."
Walker said he think that his policies still resonate with the state, and this will be shown in the recall election.
"I think in the end it is going to be a choice, " he said. "Do we go back to the days of billion dollar budget deficits, record job loss and double digit tax increases, or do we continue to move our state forward? I think the majority of the state of Wisconsin still wants us to move forward."
Beyond Walker, Wisconsin Democrats have their sights aimed on the Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and state Sens. Pam Galloway, Terry Moulton and Van Wanggaard.
All of the targeted Republicans say they believe it is inevitable they will be forced back on the ballot for another election. Kleefisch faulted unions for playing politics with recall statutes intended to remove corrupt or incompetent politicians from office.
"This is a legal use of the rules, but 'improper' and 'illegal' are two totally different things. Do I think this is an improper use? Absolutely," she said.
The election is estimated to cost state taxpayers $9 million. Legal challenges, primaries and disputes over redistricting among other factors could stagger that and increase the cost.
And with legal challenges a given before signatures on the petition can be validated, Wisconsin has digressed into a politics-at-any-cost, partisan, siege mentality.
"Understanding that the threshold is very high to recall an elected official here in Wisconsin, then if that threshold is met, then whatever that cost is going to be, is what it's going to be," said Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, one of the original 14 lawmakers who fled Wisconsin for Illinois during the battle last winter.
Erpenbach, who said what is important is that so many dissatisfied Wisconsin voters signed the petitions, has been named as a possible challenger to Walker. Some of the more high-profile Wisconsin Democrats, like Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, have said they are not interested.
"I think I’d be a good governor, I think I'd be a great governor. I definitely think I can do that job," Erpenbach said. "Can I defeat Governor Scott Walker right now? Given what happened over the past year, I don't know."
No one knows exactly when the recall election will be held. The statutes never anticipated six simultaneous recalls. The Government Accountability Board is asking for a total of 90 days to verify the signatures on the petitions.
As a result, Wittenwyler said he doesn't expect Wisconsin voters to be able to cast a ballot in the recall elections before summer. That will push the recall just months away from the November general election. That means even if the balance of power is overturned in the state Senate, it can be flipped again before the Legislature comes back into session.
"Imagine if you are just the casual voter trying to keep up on it through the news. It can be a very confusing time period," Wittenwyler said.
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