- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2011

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Organizers of an effort to kick Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker out of office said Thursday that they have collected nearly enough signatures to force a recall election next year.

The effort organized by the state Democratic Party, organized labor and disgruntled citizens grew out of anger over Mr. Walker’s polarizing measure passed in March effectively ending collective bargaining rights for public workers.

The United Wisconsin coalition said 507,533 signatures had been collected in 28 days. The deadline to submit the 540,208 signatures needed to force the recall is Jan. 17.

“The people of Wisconsin have said enough is enough,” Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said.

Republican Party spokesman Ben Sparks dismissed the signature count.

“We have no doubt the Democrats are rallying their left-wing base around their blatant power grab for the governor’s mansion,” Mr. Sparks said in a statement. He said voters who elected Mr. Walker have no desire to return the state to Democratic control.

Circulators are also attempting to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, which requires the same number of signatures. The group did not give an update on how many signatures had been collected against Mrs. Kleefisch, but it has said in the past that the numbers mirror those for Mr. Walker.

United Wisconsin said its goal is to collect more than 720,000 signatures by the deadline.

The petitions will be submitted to the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in Wisconsin and will be charged with reviewing the signatures to ensure there are enough to trigger recall contests.

However, its review will be limited to verifying only that the person who signed listed a Wisconsin address and dated it within the recall period. It’s up to challengers to contest the validity of signatures and to ferret out any duplicates.

The accountability board said it plans to ask a court to get an extension for its review from 31 days to 60 days. Challengers have just 10 days under the law to contest signatures, but Mr. Walker also is planning to seek a delay.

It’s unclear when actual recall elections may take place, but given the likely court challenges, few think they will happen before May.

On Thursday, Republican Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said the public is losing confidence in the board’s ability to handle the recall elections fairly and believes the state should consider a new structure for dealing with elections and ethics violations. Mr. Fitzgerald said he would favor a system similar to the one that preceded the creation of the board in 2007, when two separate boards with partisan appointments handled such issues.

In addition to the Walker recall, Democrats are circulating petitions targeting four incumbent Republican state senators. Two Republicans were ousted in recall elections this summer, leaving the GOP with a 17-16 majority in the Senate. Republicans also control the state Assembly, which gave them the power to push through Mr. Walker’s union measure this year over Democratic objections and the exodus of all 14 Democratic state senators to Illinois for three weeks.

Anger over the union bill led to protests in February and March that lasted for weeks and grew as large 100,000 people, making Wisconsin the center of the national fight over union rights.

Democrats have not announced a candidate to challenge Mr. Walker. Mr. Tate, the Democratic Party chairman, has said they are in no rush to name someone who would then be subject to Republican attacks. Democrats want to make the election a referendum on Mr. Walker.

A number of Democrats have said they are interested in running, but the highest profile potential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, repeatedly has said he has no intention of getting into the race.

Mr. Walker has been running campaign ads since Nov. 14, the night before the recall effort started, and he reportedly filed his first spending report Thursday. Americans for Prosperity, the conservative anti-tax and regulation group founded with the support of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, also has hit the airwaves in support of the governor.

Mr. 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.

The Democratic Party also announced Thursday that it had raised $1.1 million between July 1 and Dec. 10 and had spent nearly $540,000 on the recall effort during that time. The party reported having about $360,000 cash on hand.

A similar report from Mr. Walker’s campaign was expected to be filed late in the day.

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