Embattled first-term Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will face a recall this spring after an election was ordered Friday following the collection of more than 900,000 signatures in the wake of his push against union bargaining rights.
The Government Accountability Board voted 5-0 to order the recall, a move that has been expected for weeks given the high number of signatures gathered between November and January. It took 540,208 signatures to trigger a recall.
Assuming a Democratic primary is necessary, it will be May 8. The actual recall vote then will be June 5. Three Democrats already have announced they are running and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker defeated in 2010, has said he would announce his intentions before Tuesday.
Walker said Thursday that he looked forward to making his argument for keeping his job during the recall campaign.
"It gives us a great opportunity to tell our story, to tell that we're turning things around, how we're heading in the right direction, how we're moving Wisconsin forward," Walker said after a news conference in Milwaukee. "But we've got a lot more to do."
There have been only two successful gubernatorial recalls in U.S. history, against California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.
Walker was targeted for recall after he pushed through a law last year that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most state workers. It also forced the workers to contribute more to their pension and health care costs, which amounted to a cut in pay.
Walker argued the changes were needed to help balance the state's budget, while Democrats and other opponents said the true intention was to weaken the power of unions, which have traditionally opposed Republicans.
A passionate fight ensued in Wisconsin, the first state to enact a comprehensive collective bargaining law in 1959 and the birthplace of the national union representing all non-federal public employees. Protests raged for weeks and grew as large as 100,000 people. But Walker and Republicans who controlled the Legislature never wavered and they passed the law even though all 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois in a failed attempt to block it.
The elections board also voted Friday to order a recall against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, after nearly 809,000 signatures were gathered on recall petitions against her.
"This is no great cause for celebration, mainly because the reasons for the recall are so grave," said state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate. "Wisconsin deserves an honest discussion about her future. Today's actions ensure that this judgment will now be in the hands of the people."
Four Republican state senators also have been targeted for recall, one of which subsequently resigned. All six elections will be on either May 8 or June 5, depending on whether there are primaries.
Two Republican state senators lost their seats in a previous round of recalls last year. The Senate is currently evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans control the Assembly 59-39-1.
The recall elections promise to be bare-knuckle expensive affairs, with millions of dollars coming into Wisconsin from out-of-state special interests. Walker already had raised more than $12 million by mid-January and he has traveled across the country getting checks as large as $250,000 from high-powered conservative backers.
He casts the election as a fight between him and powerful unions. One of his Democratic challengers, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, already has won the endorsement of the statewide teachers union and the state workers union after she pledged to veto any state budget that doesn't restore collective bargaining.
An outside group supported by unions has run ads supporting Falk. Walker has been on the air since mid-November and the Republican Governors Association started ads earlier this month attacking both Falk and Barrett, even though he's not yet in the race. And the RGA launched two new ads Friday, one against Barrett and one against Falk.
Other Democrats running are longtime Secretary of State Doug La Follette and state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma.
At least three Democrats also have announced their plans to run for lieutenant governor. They are Madison firefighter and union leader Mahlon Mitchell, Milwaukee private investigator Ira Robins and Marinette truck driver Bruce Berman.
Candidates wishing to run in any of the recalls have until April 10 to file nomination papers.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.