By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — For motorists driving by the Government Accountability Board office on East Washington Avenue Tuesday afternoon, it may have been difficult to tell whether the phalanx of people were throwing a party or trying to throw a governor out of office.
As it turned out, it was a both.
A decidedly celebratory mood infused a crowd of hundreds, cheering what many have referred to as the beginning of judgment day for Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Between the din of a make-shift marching band, the halting wail of vuvuzelas and the traditional chanting that has been the soundtrack of the anti-Walker protest movement for the better part of a year, the crowd erupted in cheers each time a recall campaign volunteer carried one of dozens of petition-filled boxes from the small moving truck that read “We Did it!” to the third floor of the GAB building.
“I’m just so proud to be part of this historic grassroots movement that hasn’t happened in very long time in our country and our state,” said Darcy Haber, of Madison.
But while Democrats celebrated their day in the spotlight, the culmination of a drive that began more than two months ago, Republicans railed against what they see as a “baseless and expensive” campaign to overturn the valid results of the GOP’s 2010 Election Day sweep.
Now the counting begins.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, along with United Wisconsin, a liberal political action committee, announced it had collected more than 1.9 million signatures in recall petition drives against Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican senators.
The campaigns Tuesday claimed to have collected more than 1 million signatures in the Walker effort, and more than 845,000 for the Kleefisch campaign, confirmed Kevin Kennedy, GAB’s director and general council.
Elsewhere, the committee to recall state Sen. Terry Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, claimed to take in more than 21,000, and the same for the efforts targeting Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, and Sen. Pam Galloway of Wausau — all well above the threshold to launch recalls.
Earlier in the day, Lori Compas, the Fort Atkinson photographer and mother who launched a recall campaign against Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, announced outside the GAB office that the initiative had collected 20,600 signatures, or 123 percent of the 16,742 required to meet the recall threshold.
“I can’t talk right now,” said Compas, choking up after a reporter asked how she felt about meeting the signature requirement. “We are all united in the desire for more honorable representation.”
But whether the reported 3,000 pounds of petitions add up to enough valid signatures to force recalls remains a matter of GAB and party vetting.
Making it count
Kennedy said GAB staff and about 30 temporary workers now begin the process of scanning every signature, every petition. The documents will be stored at an undisclosed location.
Kennedy, who said the GAB’s charge is to make the process as transparent as possible, said the public will by the end of the week begin to see the signatures posted in PDF form on the GAB website, and a live web cam will be trained on workers as they complete what promises to be a lengthy review of the petitions.
As demanded by a court, GAB must do its best to eliminate duplicate and fictitious signatures.
The incumbents, simultaneously, will have access to the petitions for their own reviews.
While the board hopes to hold any recall primary and general election at the same time — for purposes of efficiency and cost-savings — Kennedy could not definitely say when the vetting process would end or when recall elections might be held.
GAB has said the earliest elections could be held is late spring. Kennedy said he will soon ask for a court extension to the initial 31-day petition review timeline.
“We have a big job ahead of us, with close to 2 million signatures,” he said. “I’m confident we have the people in place to get the job done.”
Still, the elections official conceded the board, as of Tuesday, has filled only 30 of the 50 temporary positions needed in reviewing petitions, in large part because so many of the prospective candidates have signed recall petitions. GAB staff and temp workers are prohibited from signing recall petitions or contributing to campaigns within the past 12 months, according to laws governing the board.
Counting the costs
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, meanwhile, said it looked toward the next leg of their campaign.
“You stood up with the notion that one person could make a difference. You stood up for the unions that helped create the middle class,” said Mike Tate, chairman of the Wisconsin Democrats, in a blog post, which also appealed for donations to fund the campaign the rest of the way. “You stood up against the cynical notion that the big money polluting our democracy today must always win.”
Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Brad Courtney countered that the number of reported signatures came as no surprise.
“We had no doubt the Democrats would be able to rally their left-wing supporters around this baseless and expensive recall effort,” he said in a statement. “This shameful recall attempt of the governor will accomplish nothing but saddle Wisconsin taxpayers with over $9 million in unbudgeted costs.”
The party chairman asserted Wisconsin families will “continue to stand with” Walker, who can run on a record of filling a $3.6 billion state budget gap without raising taxes.
Republicans again pointed to a recent GAB analysis that estimates counties would pay $2.34 million to administer and conduct one statewide recall election, with municipalities paying about $5.8 million. Costs for the GAB are pegged at more than $840,000.
The GAB’s Kennedy said he sees it as a balancing act between a burden to taxpayers and the price of democracy.
“I recognize, and I think everyone recognizes, this is a tremendous cost, but it is something built into our state constitution,” Kennedy told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “So you have to balance the constitutional right to recall with the costs that are imposed on the state for doing this.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who once ran the Wisconsin GOP, weighed in on the day of recall announcements, asserting “Big Labor and their liberal allies launched yet another assault on hardworking Wisconsin taxpayers.”
Priebus and other top Republicans point to a string of recall campaigns and elections since late last winter, when a GOP-controlled Legislature passed Walker’s budget repair bill and Act 10, the law despised by Democrats that curbs collective bargaining for most public employees.
Democrats did wrest two Senate seats out of six from Republicans in the 2011 summer recalls, but they failed to take back the majority in the Senate, just as they fell short of defeating conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in the spring election.
And now the record
Securing signatures and winning recall elections, Republicans contend, are different things.
While organizers in the campaign targeting Fitzgerald may have more than met the signature requirement of 25 percent of voters in the 13th Senate District’s last election, for instance, one top GOP official said that doesn’t necessarily correlate to the dynamics of an actual recall election.
“When we get to the campaign, Democrats will have to find a quality candidate to run, they have to find resources, and first and foremost, they have to have a message to run on,” said Dan Romportl, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, or CERS.
Fitzgerald and his fellow Republicans, he said, have the upper hand in having a defined list of accomplishments in the current Legislative session.
And Fitzgerald, unlike the freshmen Republican senators facing recall, has had the benefit of strong conservative support during his Senate career, spanning more than a decade and a half. In 2010, Fitzgerald and Walker each received more than 60 percent of the vote.
It’s the record of Walker and Republicans, Democrats say, that will cause problems for the governor and his party come recall election time.