MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Supporters of an unprecedented effort to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker from office said they will turn in more than enough signatures Tuesday to force the Republican into a recall election barely a year into his first term.
Walker, however, has no plans to be anywhere near the Capitol when recall organizers turn in the signatures by Tuesday's deadline. The governor is scheduled to be in New York when organizers say they will be unloading the stacks of petitions, weighing 3,000 pounds, from a truck and hauling them into the state election board's offices.
The signature drive started two months ago, largely in reaction to a law pushed by the governor last year that ended nearly all collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Organizers say they have gathered far more than the 540,208 signatures required to force the election against both Walker and GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. If so, it would mark the first time such a recall campaign has been mounted against a Wisconsin governor.
Organizers say they also will turn in enough signatures targeting the Wisconsin Senate majority leader and three other GOP senators.
Democrats have been focused on the collection of signatures and have yet to coalesce around a candidate to challenge Walker in an election. The two most high profile possibilities — former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold and retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl — have repeatedly said they're not interested.
But as the recall effort now shifts to the verification stage, pressure will increase on Democratic candidates to step forward.
However, the verification process will take months and the recall election may not be until June or later. The Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in the state and is charged with reviewing the petitions, plans to ask a court later this week for more than 60 days to complete its process.
Walker, meanwhile, has been aggressively raising money and blanketing the airwaves with campaign ads, starting the night before recall petitions hit the streets in mid-November. He's also crisscrossed the country raising millions of dollars, taking full advantage of both the conservative rock star persona built as he put Wisconsin at the center of the national labor rights debate and a quirk in state law allowing those targeted for recall to ignore normal contribution limits until an election date is set.
There have been just two successful gubernatorial recalls in the nation's history — against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
But recalls have become common in Wisconsin since the political tumult of 2011 that saw Walker and Republicans pass a law effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The opposition started with massive protests and then grew into organized campaigns first to recall state senators and then Walker himself.
Last summer, six Republican state senators and three Democrats faced recall elections. Two Republicans lost, leaving the party with a narrow one-vote majority in the Senate.
The Walker recall couldn't officially be filed until after he had served a year in office, an anniversary that was hit earlier this month. The four senators targeted this year include Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who served as a staunch defender of Walker's agenda and critic of 14 Senate Democrats who fled the state in an unsuccessful attempt to block the union bill. The three other Republican lawmakers targeted are all midway through their first terms.
Walker argues that while some of the decisions he made last year to balance a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall were difficult, the state is in a better financial position and will prosper in the long run. The state Republican Party has hit on the same theme, portraying Walker as a "do something" governor. "It's not always popular," the mailing says, "but it's working."
Walker reported in mid-December that he'd already raised $5.1 million, with about half of that coming from out of state. He received $250,000 alone from Bob Perry, the Texas conservative who was one of the main financial backers behind the Swift Boat Veterans ads that attacked Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign.
Democratic Party and union leaders say they're not concerned about not having someone actively running against Walker and trying to match his fundraising. In fact, they say it was part of their strategy.
"It forced Walker and his minions to run on their record and issues rather than to run against an announced Democratic candidate," said Marty Beil, president of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, the largest union of state workers. "That was part of the rationale through the whole recall petition collection process."
Walker's campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement that the governor's record will "stand in stark contrast to whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is."
Moderate Democrat state Sen. Tim Cullen has said he intends to take on Walker but has not made a formal announcement or been actively campaigning. He said he expects and welcomes a Democratic primary, which likely would be held in May, although the timing will be unclear until possible delays related to the signature verification process and any legal challenges are resolved.
"If there's not a primary, then who's actually deciding this?" Cullen said.
Walker and his allies say organized labor will decide the Democratic candidate. Public workers and their unions have been a driving force behind the recall, helping provide the manpower needed to circulate petitions.
Other potential candidates include Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker beat by 5 percentage points in 2010, retired Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey, current U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach and state Rep. Peter Barca.