Organizers of the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Monday they had collected 300,000 petition signatures in 12 days, more than half the number needed to force an election.
United Wisconsin, the coalition behind the drive, needs 540,208 signatures by Jan. 17 to trigger a recall election sometime in 2012. Their efforts kicked off Nov. 15 with more than 100 signature-gathering events, including a rally outside Walker’s home.
Walker opponents are furious over the Republican governor’s successful efforts to effectively end collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The law passed in March despite massive protests and 14 Democratic state senators who fled to Illinois for three weeks.
Organizers’ signature counts can’t be independently verified — the petitions won’t be submitted for verification until all the required signatures have been collected. Still, United Wisconsin said signatures have come from all 72 counties.
United Wisconsin did not report how many signatures had been collected for the recall of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, but a spokeswoman for the group told the Associated Press the totals were close.
In an interview with CNBC Wednesday, Walker said he expects his opponents will probably collect the required number of signatures in time, and looks forward to the opportunity to campaign on the reforms he’s enacted.
“If come next May or maybe early June, if they actually have the signatures and it forces a new election, all of those issues will be up on the ballot. But I look forward to that,” Walker said. “I’d love to have the chance to talk to the voters of Wisconsin again to tell that story.”
Walker has defended the collective bargaining changes, and other moves such as cutting public education aid, as necessary to bring the state’s budget back into balance at a time when it faced a $3.6 billion shortfall.
“I think if voters hear the facts, every week, every day, every week, every month that goes by, our numbers get better because our story gets out and people see the positive impact of the results,” he continued. “The facts, I think, ultimately trump all the attacks. If you see that the schools are the same or better and that our governments are doing well and in the end our taxes are going down, people want to hear that, and I think the results will trump everything else.”
In anticipation that the necessary signatures will be collected, Walker has released two television ads to counter the recall effort.
Ben Sparks, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party, said the recall effort is “a baseless partisan power-grab being pushed on Wisconsin families by liberal special interests.”
“We remain focused on Governor Walker’s common-sense reforms that have laid the ground work for economic growth, and our economy only continues to improve,” Sparks said in a written statement.
Anger spurred nine Wisconsin Senate recall elections this summer targeting six Republican and three Democratic incumbents. Two Republicans lost, leaving them with a slim one-vote majority in the Senate.
Petitions are also circulating against four more Republican incumbents, setting up the possibility of more recall elections next year that could give Democrats control of the Senate.
Assuming enough petitions have been collected, March 27 is the earliest a Walker recall election could be held, though legal challenges and additional time to verify the signatures would likely push any recall election to later in the spring or summer. There could also be a primary.
No Democrat has announced plans to take on Walker. Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate has said Democrats are in no hurry to name a candidate and they hope to make the recall a referendum on Walker.
But the signature-gathering has not been without suspicion: Conservative radio talk show host Vicki McKenna, a Walker supporter, said Wednesday she found out someone fraudulently used her name to sign a petition. She said a listener emailed her with the subject line “election fraud.”
“I was obviously mad, but I was thinking to myself, ‘That’s got to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. Who’s not going to notice that?’” McKenna told the Wisconsin Reporter about the discovery.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.