By DEDE PAQUETTE
Wisconsin state news these days is as gripping as a political thriller. The first chapter exploded in February with the story of the governor’s budget repair bill, inciting chanting and marching by thousands of citizen protestors. State senators hid out in Illinois, bills passed in the middle of the night, and summer sizzled with recall elections of several state legislators. This fall, political junkies around the country are waiting the intense final chapter – the recall of Governor Walker.
Since the governor began his term on January 3, 2011, Wisconsin law dictates that signatures on recall petitions cannot be filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, a group of nonpartisan election officials, until January 3, 2012. However, groups can begin circulating petitions for signature in advance of that date.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, together with several grassroots organizations, announced recently that the official recall effort will begin on November 15. Once petitions begin circulating, volunteers will have 60 days to collect 540,208 signatures – 25 percent of all votes for the governor in the 2010 general election.
Mureen Payton, a social worker for a local school district, will be one of those volunteers. “When I got the email from the Democratic Party announcing the start of the recall, I signed up to volunteer right away,” Payton said. Payton is passionate about the role education plays in people’s lives and feels the cuts in the governor’s budget are devastating to education in the state.
“’Quality Education Always.’ That’s what my protest sign said,” Payton said, referring to the sign she carried during the February protests in Madison.
She’s not alone. “We do not take this lightly,” said Marcia Riquelme, steering committee member for the WisconsinRecall Task Force, a group working to facilitate collaboration among the recall supporters. “We know [the recall effort] will be risky, expensive, exhausting, and perhaps lacking in success, but we have determination and good research.”
Riquelme explained that the WisconsinRecall Task Force has conducted listening sessions to begin organizing the effort. Their goal is to “use information to bring together people from all over the state.” The sessions sought input from “individuals representing groups of established grassroots organizations, as well as professional, institutional, and political groups,” she said.
Riquelme said that coordination of the various groups involved will be critical.
“There are logistical and other considerations that deserve attention,” Riquelme said. She went on to explain that permits are necessary for some activities, and volunteers from all over the state must be organized to canvas neighborhoods, attend community events, and work phone banks disseminating information.
“As people learned from the recalls this summer, the variables are astounding,” Riquelme said.
While volunteers work to get recall efforts off the ground, another gripping chapter of Wisconsin’s political story is developing.
Earlier this month, the Government Accountability Board clarified a policy stating that recall petitions with a single signature may be used toward required totals. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that this means recall groups could accept pre-printed forms downloaded from an online site, signed by the voter, and mailed to the group. Normally, volunteers collect pages of signatures during canvassing. However, using databases of Walker opponents, recall groups would have a powerful tool for signature collection.
Republicans in the legislature are opposed to this interpretation, especially the procedure for pre-printing the petition forms. In a meeting of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules on September 27, Republicans asked the Government Accountability Board to reclassify the new interpretations as administrative rules. Governor Walker was given the ability to veto administrative rules by the Republican-controlled legislature in May. In effect, he can veto a rule made by election officials that would be key in his own recall effort.
Democrats are opposed to the change. Following the September 27 meeting, the Joint Commitee for Review of Administrative Rules member State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) issued her reaction in a press release, “The Government Accountability Board interprets state election law and that is what they did. They did not create any rules.” If the Government Accountability Board is simply clarifying standing election law, the interpretations are not subject to a veto by the governor.
Democrats, Republicans, and the Government Accountability Board seemed headed for a showdown. But then on October 2, the Government Accountability Board released the pressure by reversing its decision on the pre-printed forms.
“The reasons for the Government Accountability Board’s new position are unknown,” said Teghan M. Delane, Director of Communications for the Office of Senator Lena Taylor. “The Joint Commity for Review of Administrative Rules took no action, so the Government Accountability Board will continue to make policy on elections.”
It appears that Governor Walker will not have to get out his veto pen just yet.
Mureen Payton – Social Worker and Recall Volunteer, 262-246-6471
Marcia Riquelme – Steering Committee Member, WisconsinRecall Task Force – 608-466-1446
Teghan M. DeLane – Director of Communications & Media Relations – Office of Senator Lena C. Taylor – 608-266-5810
“Recall of state officials” National Conference of State Legislatures Retrieved from
http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=16581. Accessed 9/22/2011
“Sentiments moving against Walker” Public Policy Polling 8/16/2011 Retrieved from http://publicpolicypolling.blogspot.com/2011/08/sentiment-moving-against-walker-recall.html Accessed 9/24/2011
“GOP lawmakers consider changes to recall petition process” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 9/27/2011 Retrieved from http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/130671518.html. Accessed 9/28/2011/