Governor Who Took On Unions May Face a Closely Watched Recall Election

 Thousands of volunteers have raced to collect signatures near busy intersections and malls all over Wisconsin, at makeshift “drive-through” operations in parking lots, during Green Bay Packers viewing parties and New Year’s Eve pub crawls, and even at a fold-up table inside Milwaukee’s airport just off Concourse C.
By a state deadline on Tuesday, these volunteers, many of them Democrats and union supporters, say they will submit at least 720,000 names on petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican who curtailed collective bargaining rights for public workers, leading to a face-off in this state.
Only two governors in the nation’s history have lost their jobs in recalls, but Mr. Walker himself acknowledges that, presuming there are no major flaws in the petitions, a recall election appears likely. That puts his removal, which would have a vote in late spring or early summer, within the realm of possibility.
Politicians and political operatives far beyond Wisconsin will be watching closely, not just for what the recall effort may imply for other state’s leaders who are considering cuts to workers’ benefits and union powers as a way to solve budget problems, but also as a sign for the presidential race. Wisconsin was one of several pivotal Midwestern states that gave Barack Obama solid victories in 2008 but then elected Republicans, including Mr. Walker, in significant numbers in 2010. Money from outside the state is certain to pour in from both sides for the recall vote.
In an interview in which Mr. Walker reflected on what he described as his “very surreal” first year in office, he spoke of the outside forces. “I think there’s a real sense that the government unions don’t want anybody — Republican or Democrat — doing this,” Mr. Walker said of his moves to limit benefits and bargaining rights for public workers. “And they’re going to try to make an example of me.”
Although recall organizers, calling themselves United Wisconsin, say they expect to submit thousands more signatures than the 540,208 required for a new election (or one-quarter of the voters for governor in 2010), Mr. Walker said he believed he could ultimately hold onto his job. “I look at it optimistically and say that means there’s still a majority of voters in the state who opted not to sign a recall petition and hopefully a majority of whom want us to still keep moving the state forward.”
Around Wisconsin, where control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature flipped to Republican from Democratic a year ago, people complain that the tone of political discourse has turned uncharacteristically feverish, polarized and ugly — with the recall effort, which formally began in November, as only the latest evidence.
Scores of problems have been claimed: intentionally scribbled-on petitions, physical altercations about petitions, fake names on petitions, and a slew of screamed bad words (not to mention at least one egg) exchanged over petitions. Some Democrats say they began carrying cameras in case they needed to document untoward acts. And Republicans launched a “Recall Integrity Center” Web site where people could report “shady tactics” from the other side.
“One of the worst things that’s happened in this state is how divided it’s become over this, even inside some families,” said Marlene Ott, who was gathering recall signatures last week inside the airport. Several people holding boarding passes spotted her portable stand and stopped to sign. But another passer-by, clutching the hands of two young girls, called out angrily, “This is disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful!”
“Why,” the man, Henri Kinson of Whitewater, asked afterward, “should my granddaughters pay for these entitlements they’re calling rights?”
The move against the governor is only part of the turmoil here. Separate recall drives are under way against the Republican lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators, including Scott Fitzgerald, the majority leader, who helped pass Mr. Walker’s collective bargaining plan after Senate Democrats left Wisconsin to prevent a vote. Last summer, the same issue led to nine recall elections, which resulted in two Senate seats changing hands and a narrower Republican majority of 17 to 16.
Carol Carlin, a retired teacher whose signs beckoned people to park in the driveway of her Milwaukee County house and add their names to recall petitions, said the psyches of public workers had been devastated by Mr. Walker’s cuts. “People don’t want to become teachers when you are absolutely treated as the leeches on the system,” she said.
Mr. Walker has said his cuts to collective bargaining were needed to solve a $3.6 billion state budget deficit and defends the move as one element of a plan to turn the state’s economic climate around. But his critics’ complaints now reach beyond the union issue, to questions about his handling of the environment, about a criminal investigation focused on people who worked for Milwaukee County during his tenure as county executive, and about his promises of 250,000 new jobs in the state during his four-year term.
In recent consecutive months, the state has been losing jobs, government estimates show, and since Mr. Walker took office, fewer than 20,000 new private sector jobs have been reported.

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