MADISON, Wis. - If there was any idea anger toward Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's right wing extremist policies has dissipated, that was smashed with the announcement that after just two weeks over 300,000 signatures have been collected for his recall. So far, collection totals average 1,040 signatures an hour and have far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.
Signature collection lasts until January 17, and 540,000 valid signatures are needed to recall Walker. Wisconsin law requires 25 percent of the previous election's gubernatorial vote total. Organizers are aiming to collect 1 million signatures.
If enough valid signatures are collected, the recall election will be scheduled for sometime in the first half of 2012. A Democratic challenger will be determined later.
In addition to Walker, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators are being recalled, potentially restoring a Democratic majority in the state legislature. This follows the successful recall of two Republican state senators this past summer.
Grassroots anger is fueled by the harsh reality of the destructive Walker policies. Not only has collective bargaining for most public employees been eliminated, but now these workers are forced to pay more for pensions and health care. And deep budget cuts are impacting public education and social services.
Over $800 million has been cut from public education and $500 million from Badgercare, the state Medicare system. Meanwhile over $117 million has been doled out in tax relief for big corporations.
The Walker policies have resulted in more job loss than any state, despite the governor's boast that "Wisconsin is open for business."
And new voter suppression law there is an assault on democracy.
The United Wisconsin movement backing the recall builds upon the coalition that led the mass protests and the Madison capitol occupation this past spring, including public workers, farmers, students, women's, civil rights and immigrant's rights organizations and the Democratic Party.
All sections of the labor movement are mobilizing including public safety unions who are exempt from the anti-collective bargaining law. In a show of unity, Harold A. Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, will lead a Madison rally of public safety unions on December 3.
A recent poll shows 58 percent of Wisconsinites favor recall, including a growing number of Republicans and people who voted for Walker in 2010. Many of the worst effects of the Walker policies are felt in the small towns and rural areas.
"What is truly remarkable," writes Nation political correspondent John Nichols, "is where the signatures are coming from: rural and small-town Wisconsin communities are contributing disproportionally high numbers of signatures to the total."
Nichols describes the torrid pace of signature collection in the town of Burlington in Racine County, a reliable Republican stronghold dating back to Richard Nixon.
Barack Obama received 2424 votes in Burlington in 2008. Recall organizers have already collected over 2500 signatures.
"I'm not frustrated," John Hopper a Burlington resident told the MyRacineCounty.com local news website. "I'm angry."
"I've worked with and around unions all my life," said Hopper. "I believe in everything the unions have gotten for everybody. To wit, a weekend. Vacations. Overtime. Health benefits. Civil workplaces. Work safety. Child safety laws."
Invoking her experience in a small Southwestern Wisconsin town, Cap Times columnist Margaret Krome believes recall organizers underestimated the fever for recall in rural communities.
"I wasn't expecting the reception I got," recounted Krome. "Three hunters turned their truck and trailer around and pulled up to where I stood on the sidewalk. I explained that I was with the Recall Walker campaign. 'It's why we turned around,' the driver said. He had already signed, but his father wanted the chance.
"While his father signed, I told him about the woman losing $200 a month. He held up four fingers. "For me, it's $400 a month." He's a prison guard, and the cut in health care and retirement benefits is hitting his paycheck hard."
The recall has been months in the making. Offices have opened all over the state and thousands of volunteers have undergone training. In addition to on the job and door-to-door signature collection, "drive through petition signing stations" have been set up all over. Drivers pull into a parking lot, sign and drive off.
The recall began Nov. 13. Over 105,000 signatures had been collected from all 72 counties in the state by Nov. 19, when a gigantic kickoff rally of 40,000 was held in Madison.
Former Associated Students of Madison Vice-Chair Beth Huang was a speaker at the rally and reflected widespread student support for the recall. "Tell the 180,000 students in the UW System that our never-ceasing annual 5.5 percent tuition increases are worth it when we're wait-listed class after class," Huang said in response to the recent university budget cuts.
Photo: John Bachtell/PW