The petition drive to recall and remove Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has surpassed all expectations in its first two weeks, collecting more than 300,000 signatures.
The truly remarkably thing about the total so far is not, however, that it is so large.
What is truly remarkable is where the signatures are coming from: rural and small-town Wisconsin communities are contributing disproportionally high numbers of signatures to the total.
No one, not even the most concerned critic of Governor Walker's assault on collective bargaining rights, expected the recall campaign would move as quickly as it has.
No one expected United Wisconsin's recall drive to gather more than half the required signatures in less than two weeks of petitioning. No one expected whole counties to reach their signature goals in the first week. No one expected conservative communities in Republican regions of the state to take the lead in collecting recall signatures against a Republican governor.
But it is happening.
Wisconsin has one of the highest thresholds in the nation for recalling statewide officials. Citizens must gather signatures equaling 25 percent of the turnout in the previous gubernatorial election. That's a baseline requirement of 540,000 signatures. And they must be collected in just 60 days. (Of course, to avoid challenges, a "cushion" of additional signatures is needed.)
In California -- the last state where a governor was successfully recalled -- citizens only had to gather signatures equaling 12 percent of the turnout in the last election, and they had 160 days to do it.
How could Wisconsin reach a threshold that was twice as high in less than half the time? Not by building a movement rooted only in liberal precincts of the state capitol city of Madison, as the governor and his amen corner keep claiming. And not by relying merely on Democrats.
To be successful, the recall drive against Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch had to attract support from independents and Republicans. And that is precisely what is happening.
As Steve Smith, a boiler operator at Wisconsin's Southern Center for the Developmentally Disabled, explained while he gathered petition signatures on Thanksgiving morning in Burlington, "A lot of the people who are working the hardest on this recall aren't big Democrats. I voted Democrat and Republican. And a lot of the people who are signing the petitions say they voted for Walker. So this goes way beyond Democrats."
Smith's point is a critical one.
Burlington, a Racine County city that voted for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and John McCain, Barack Obama, has a booming recall movement. Indeed, while Barack Obama received 2,424 votes in Burlington in 2008 (compared with McCain's 2,567), local recall activists had already collected 2,500 signatures from the Burlington area in the first two weeks of the eight-week drive.
Thus, even in Republican-leaning areas, the recall is exceeding goals -- and exceeding the 2008 performance of the most popular Democratic presidential nominee in decades. That earned a front-page headline last week in the Burlington Standard-Press newspaper: "Recall Effort Has a Visible Presence in Conservative Burlington."
In fact, the recall effort has a visible presence in conservative and Republican-leaning areas across Wisconsin.
The first counties to approach their goals for the entire recall drive have been rural ones -- all of which send at least some Republicans to the legislature.
In Columbia County, where Walker won 52 percent of the vote last year, more than 10,033 voters have signed recall petitions -- well over 45 percent of the total gubernatorial turnout of 2010.
In Pierce County, where Walker got 53 percent of the vote last year, more than 4,700 voters have signed recall petitions -- well over 25 percent of the total gubernatorial turnout of 2010.
In Oneida County, where Walker took 55 percent of the vote last year, almost 3,700 voters have signed recall petitions -- well over 20 percent of the total gubernatorial turnout of 2010.
Governor Walker has done great harm to Milwaukee, to Madison, to Racine, Kenosha, Janesville, Beloit and other urban communities. But his combination of job-killing economic schemes and cuts to basic services and public education are doing the most damage far beyond Wisconsin's big cities.
Walker missteps and misdeeds are pushing small cities, villages and rural communities to the brink.
Under his “leadership,” Wisconsin now leads the nation in job losses. And some of the hardest hit counties are far from Wisconsin’s big cities.
The battering the state’s rural and small-town economy has taken under Walker is coupled with divisive policies and extreme cuts.
The governor’s assault on collective-bargaining rights has strained relations at the county, city, village, township and school district levels.
And his determination to cut state funding for public services and public education in order to fund tax cuts for out-of-state corporations has been especially devastating for rural communities, small towns and small cities.
Surveys of school administrators across the state show that the vast majority of the state’s school districts have had to make cuts, and are anticipating even deeper cuts, as a result of the governor’s policies. Communities in every corner of Wisconsin have been forced to open discussions about closing schools. Just last week, an advisory committee that has been meeting regularly since the summer to identify potential budgets cuts for the Sauk Prairie School District (north of Madison) voted to recommend that the school board close an elementary school.
Walker has not just cut aid to schools and communities. He has promoted policies that, while popular with his out-of-state donors, threaten to make it dramatically harder for local officials to do their jobs.
Walker’s seeks to undermine the ability of school boards and town boards to address budget challenges in smart and creative ways. By taking away the flexibility that has been essential to budgeting in Wisconsin’s smaller cities, villages and towns, Walker proposes to make hard times worse in communities where there is little margin for error.
Wisconsinites recognize this. So it should come as no surprise that rural regions and small cities and towns, including traditionally Republican communities, are leading the charge to remove the governor and his rubber-stamp lieutenant governor from office.