MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats say they've collected enough signatures to trigger a recall election for one of eight Republican state senators they're seeking to oust for backing the governor's divisive union rights law, but they will have to wait at least a month before election officials verify the names.
Democrats from state Sen. Dan Kapanke's district in La Crosse filed petitions Friday with about 21,700 signatures. If the Government Accountability Board determines that 15,588 are valid, it would trigger the fifth recall of a state official in Wisconsin history. It would be just the 21st recall of a state official in U.S. history.
Along with Kapanke, efforts have been started to
recall seven other Republican and eight Democratic senators over their support or opposition to the law that would strip most public workers of most of their collective bargaining rights.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker has said the law is needed to help schools and local governments deal with cuts in state funding he expects to make to address an estimated $3.6 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget. Democrats have said it's an attempt to weaken the public employee unions that have been some of their biggest campaign supporters.
The board has 31 days to certify the signatures and call a recall election, but director Kevin Kennedy said it will ask a court to extend the review period to accommodate signature challenges and petitions expected from other recall committees around the state.
He said the board would likely certify multiple petitions at the same time so most of the elections are held on the same day. Recall elections are held on the first Tuesday six weeks after certification.
Democratic Party members and their Madison-area supporters surrounded committee volunteer Richelle Zimmerman as she signed the forms needed to file the signatures. Zimmerman, 36, a social worker with La Crosse County Human Services, said the recall was needed to make sure lawmakers hear the voice of Wisconsin voters.
"It's not just about collective bargaining; there are so many things in this bill that go off after the values of Wisconsin," Zimmerman said. "And when you really look farther and farther, is it worth it? Absolutely. If we can save our state, restore our values, it will be 10 times worth it."
Kapanke didn't return calls for comment Friday, but the senator defended his vote for the law earlier this week as a necessary to balance the state's budget while minimizing layoffs. He admitted he may have gone about the legislative process differently "if I were governor."
Republicans approved the bill without the 14 Democratic senators who had fled the state in a vote that is being challenged in court. A Dane County judge has blocked it from going into effect while she considers a lawsuit claiming Republicans passed the law illegally.
La Crosse Republicans opened a campaign office in anticipation of the recall. Kapanke said that while he believes support for the law is increasing, he's not sure what effect it'll have.
"Whether (public opinion) has turned enough, I don't know," Kapanke said. "My district leans another way, and I expect that. Every one of my races has been competitive and it's my job to get the message out and bridge the divide as I'm out here in the district."
Kapanke won his 2008 election against Democratic challenger Tara Johnson by only 2,507 votes and lives in a district that traditionally leans Democratic.