Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose campaign to limit the power of public employee unions aroused the ire of labor groups across the country, will face a recall election later this spring, the state’s Government Accountability Board ruled Friday.
The board, which enforces state election laws, voted 5-0 to order the election. The decision had been expected because the board had certified that there were more than enough petition signatures to force the vote.
At stake will be Republican Walker’s political future and that of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, also a Republican. The board certified that there were 900,938 valid signatures to recall Walker and 808,990 valid signatures to recall Kleefisch. Officials said 540,208 signatures were required for the recall vote to be ordered.
Four GOP state senators were also targeted for recall, one of whom has resigned. All six elections will be decided June 5; primaries to determine possible replacements will be held May 8.
Even though the formal announcement was made Friday, both sides have been raising money and campaigning for weeks in the expectation that Wisconsin will have a chance to become the third state to recall a sitting governor. Voters decided to dump California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
“Today, for the first time in Wisconsin history, a recall election was certified against a sitting governor,” state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said in a prepared statement. “This is no great cause for celebration, mainly because the reasons for the recall are so grave. ... Wisconsin deserves an honest discussion about her future. Today’s actions ensure that this judgment will now be in the hands of the people.”
The Friends of Scott Walker campaign committee said it was hopeful about the election, which it estimated would cost about $9 million in taxpayer funds to run.
“We have long said that we anticipated the election process would move forward,” the committee said in a statement emailed to reporters. “Now it is time for voters to examine the choice they will be faced with in June. We believe a majority of Wisconsin voters will stand with Governor Walker’s record of laying the foundation for a more successful Wisconsin while moving the state forward and against the Democrats’ failed policies. ... Voters are not prepared to reverse the tremendous progress the governor has made by prematurely ending his term in this $9 million power grab by out-of-state special interests.”
Last year, Walker and his GOP allies who controlled the Legislature pushed through measures that effectively ended collective-bargaining rights for most state workers. The moves also forced state workers to contribute more to their pension and healthcare costs. The Republicans said the changes were needed to ease pressures on the financially strapped state and its localities.
The move set off weeks of anti-Walker demonstrations in the capital that drew tens of thousands of protesters and, on some days, as many as 100,000. At one point, all 14 state Senate Democrats fled to Illinois in a vain effort to block the cuts.
At least three Democrats have already announced that they will seek the governor’s office, including former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who has been endorsed by the teachers and state employee unions. Also having announced are Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker defeated in 2010, has said he would announce his intentions shortly.
Walker has reportedly raised more than $12 million for his campaign, which has attracted support from conservatives who view the Wisconsin battle as the first step toward similar fights in other Midwestern states run by the GOP. The Republican Governors Assn. has already been running ads against possible Democratic challengers.