One Million in Wisconsin Want Recall

How a grassroots coalition convinced more than a million voters to challenge their state's controversial governor.
Recall Walker photo by Martin Saunders

At least 30,000 came to the Wisconsin Capitol on Nov. 19 to begin the process of collecting signatures to recall Gov. Scott Walker. On Jan. 17, the group United Wisconsin turned in more than a million signatures.

Photo by Martin Saunders.

Wisconsin residents delivered petitions for the recall of Gov. Scott Walker to the Government Accountability Board in Madison, Wisc., in January. Recall advocates needed 540,000 signatures; they turned in petitions signed by more than a million voters—showing the people of Wisconsin haven’t forgotten what led to the “Wisconsin Uprising” a year ago, in February 2011.

Soon after taking office, Walker began enacting an unexpected and sweeping austerity agenda influenced by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Koch brothers. When he introduced anti-labor legislation that would severely limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees, protesters flooded the state capitol building in a mass protest occupation to put workers’ rights back on the agenda. “Wisconsin,” as the protest came to be known, united ordinary Americans in the fight for accountability and fairness, and invigorated supporters across the country. When the bill was finally passed, protesters carried resistance to the next stage: the electoral recall process.

Grassroots groups created a coalition, United Wisconsin, expressly for the purpose of  recalling Walker. They initiated the recall petitions and recruited 30,000 volunteers who gathered signatures throughout the dark of winter—from mid- November to mid-January—in streets and shopping malls.

We Are Wisconsin Book CoverBook Review: We Are Wisconsin
The uprising in the words of the activists, writers, and everyday Wisconsinites who made it happen.

The volunteers also netted 845,000 signatures on petitions to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and more than they needed to begin recall elections for four Republican state senators, including Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a key figure in implementing the anti-labor legislation.

Elections will be scheduled once the Government Accountability Board verifies the petitions. Walker and his allies will then have to campaign for their positions all over again—although they could lodge legal challenges that would delay the elections. 

Democrats Kathleen Falk and Sen. Tim Cullen have already declared their intention to run against Walker. It may be a tough battle—only two other gubernatorial recall efforts have ever been successful, and Walker has already raised $4.5 million for his recall campaign. But last summer, two Democrats won senate recall elections in Wisconsin, encouraging for those who hope a decisive rejection of Walker’s anti-labor agenda could have national repurcussions.

Jennifer Kaye and Lindsay Kucera contributed reporting to this piece.


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