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Wisconsin Democrats Launch Governor Recall Effort

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Opponents of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, upset about the governor's move last spring to curb collective-bargaining rights for many public employees, are circulating petitions Tuesday in a campaign to recall him from office.

The Republican's critics will need to collect their signatures in the next 60 days.

On a recent weekday evening, about a dozen people gathered at a small clubhouse on Milwaukee's east side. These middle-aged men and women came to be trained on how to circulate petitions to get the signatures needed to recall Walker. The mere mention Walker's name sparks a visceral negative reaction among them.

For retired police officer John Harrington, the anger runs deep. He says he opposes the state's new law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls.

"The voter ID thing bothered me a whole lot," he said. "Besides, I've had a lifelong aversion to anybody that beats up on people. I don't like bullies. I don't like bullies with money who have an office."

Harrington is one of thousands of people who have been trained in the past few weeks to circulate recall petitions.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate says petitioners will fan out in the state's 72 counties.

"You're going to see them everywhere," he said. "You'll have people outside the parking lots of shopping malls over the holiday season. There will be people at the deer-cleaning stands during deer hunting.

"We're going to be in every aspect of Wisconsin life wherever there's people."

Challenge To Effort

Tate is shooting for 700,000 signatures, though only 500,000 valid ones will be needed. But getting those signatures in this sharply divided state may pose a bit of a challenge.

Matt Warner, a former truck driver, says he supports the governor's budget cuts and won't sign the petition to force a recall election.

"I think what he's trying to do is a decent thing," he said. "Without sounding cliche, you've got to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Generally speaking, when you're trying to pull off this kind of trick, you've got to make some hard decisions, and not everybody's going to be happy with it."

Walker's allies are already beginning to fight back.

Television viewers in some parts of the state are seeing ads in support of the governor.

History does appear to be on Walker's side. Only two governors have ever been recalled: North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier was kicked out of office in 1921, and California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003.

Gary Moncrief, who teaches political science at Boise State University, says Wisconsin petitioners have to gather signatures equal to 25 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

"In California, I believe it's 12 percent of the people who voted in the last election," he said. "Proportionately, about half as many people in California had to sign a petition as do in Wisconsin."

But momentum for recall appears to be building — especially after Ohio voters rejected collective-bargaining restrictions at the polls just last week.

Officials in Wisconsin say they recruited 8,000 people to circulate petitions in their effort to gather the 500,000 valid signatures needed to force the recall election next spring.

Copyright 2011 Milwaukee Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wuwm.com/.

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