Wisconsin Officials Must Verify 1.9 Million Recall Signatures

Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Wisconsin election officials will examine more than 1.9 million petition signatures aimed at forcing recalls of Governor Scott Walker, his lieutenant governor and four state senators, all Republicans.

The Government Accountability Board, a nonpartisan panel of former judges, for two months will focus on the validity of names turned in yesterday in Madison, the state capital, said Director Kevin Kennedy. The timing of any recall election is unknown, he said, because there are “so many variables” in a verification process that will be webcast and subject to legal challenges. Two sets of eyes will examine every name, he said.

“We have no dog in this fight,” Kennedy said yesterday at a news conference in Madison, referring to the board’s neutrality. “We just have a job to do.”

Walker, 44, pushed collective-bargaining curbs on public employees that divided the state of 5.7 million people. At least 1 million people signed petitions to force him from office, nearly as many as the 1.1 million who voted for him in 2010. If the board finds at least 540,208 of the signatures are valid, Wisconsin will become only the third state to consider ousting a governor.

“Scott Walker will be recalled,” Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said in a news conference in Madison.

The petitions are “a crystal-clear indication of how strong the appetite is,” Ryan Lawler, a board member of United Wisconsin, said in a statement. The group helped amass the names.

Heavy Names

Democrats and union members also collected about 850,000 signatures to recall Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and 20,600 to recall Senator Scott Fitzgerald, about 4,200 more than necessary. Also targeted are Senators Pam Galloway, Terry Moulton and Van Wanggaard, each of whom supported Walker’s collective-bargaining limits.

Hours before the delivery of the petitions -- 300,000 pages weighing 3,000 pounds -- Walker called the effort “a baseless recall.”

“We’re going to get a chance to do what’s never been done before: be elected twice in the same term,” Walker told Milwaukee radio station WTMJ.

The Republican Governors Association unveiled a website supporting Walker, called StandWithScott.com.

“Regardless of what the radical left may believe, Wisconsin families will continue to stand with Governor Walker,” Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Brad Courtney said in a statement.

Outside Cash

Walker raised $7.6 million in anticipation of a recall, according to a Jan. 10 report filed with the accountability board. He has attended fundraisers in Washington and Austin.

No Democrat has emerged to challenge him.

In 2011, the battle over public-employee union bargaining rights prompted recalls in nine legislative districts and drew $44 million in contributions, most from out-of-state interests, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Madison.

Walker, the former Milwaukee County executive, won election with 52 percent of the vote, defeating Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. The collective-bargaining changes he pushed through the Republican-dominated Legislature provoked tens of thousands to protest at the Capitol last February and March.

Wisconsin has a 20th century history of progressivism embodied by Robert LaFollette Sr., the fiery U.S. senator who opposed World War I, railroad interests and child labor. Its modern-day politics mirrors national political divisions.

Walker is a champion of smaller government and reduced entitlements articulated by U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Recall campaigns would coincide with the presidential fight in Wisconsin, a perennial battleground. President Barack Obama won the state in 2008 with 56 percent of the vote, defeating Senator John McCain with 42 percent.

Only two U.S. governors have been recalled from office, Gray Davis of California in 2003, and Lynn Frazier of North Dakota in 1921.

To contact the reporter on this story: Timothy Jones in Chicago at tjones58@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net

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