Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine. He maintains the blog "The Beat" at TheNation.com. His upcoming book is called Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.
Opponents of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker have submitted more than a million signatures seeking his recall in a statewide vote. The million-plus signatures amount to nearly double the required number of 540,000 and may mark the largest recall effort in U.S. history. Walker is being challenged for pushing through a controversial law ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The million signatures "represent almost half of the electorate in the last election, in 2010, and what you might reasonably presume to be the electorate that would participate in a recall election," says John Nichols of The Nation magazine. "[Walker] will be forced to face a new election, because he adopted the austerity agenda of the Republican and conservative leadership in Washington and tried to balance budgets on the backs of public employees, tried to destroy their unions, tried to cut school funding, and succeeded in cutting funding. And we’re going to have a referendum on the most fundamental of economic issues." [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Opponents of Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker have submitted more than a million signatures seeking his recall in a statewide vote. The million-plus signatures amount to nearly double the required number of 540,000 and may mark the largest recall effort in U.S. history. Walker is being challenged for pushing through a controversial law ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. If the recall effort succeeds, he’ll face a new election in late spring or early fall—or early summer. Recall petitions were also submitted for Walker’s lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican state senators who helped pass the anti-union measure.
Before the recall can proceed, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board must determine the validity of the petition signatures. It’s supposed to verify the number within 60 days, but the sheer size of the filing and likely challenges from Governor Walker may delay its verdict. If the board ultimately OKs the recall election, the primary will be held six weeks after its determination, followed by a general election four weeks later.
AMY GOODMAN: So far, at least two candidates have their eye on a recall election. State Senator Tim Cullen of Janesville announced he’ll run before the signatures were even in. On his Facebook page, he promises to stop, quote, "the right wing direction that Governor Walker has taken the state." And Kathleen Falk, the former county executive in Dane County, announced her intention to run in a video post on her website.
KATHLEEN FALK: The grassroots movement that began a year ago made history. We got together. We got organized. We got the signatures. And we will take back our state. Think of what we’ve done. Faced with an all-out assault on everything that matters to us, we reacted, not with despair, not with anger, but with hope. Hope has inspired this movement, and the people of this movement inspire me. That is why I have decided to run for governor and will be making a formal announcement soon.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in a prepared statement Tuesday, Governor Walker said, quote, "I expect Wisconsin voters will stand with me and keep moving Wisconsin forward."
Well, for more, we go to Madison, Wisconsin, where we’re joined by John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, maintains the blog "The Beat" at TheNation.com. His upcoming book, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.
John, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of getting not only enough signatures, but almost double, more than a million signatures calling for the recall of Governor Walker—not that it means he will be recalled.
JOHN NICHOLS: No, a recall is a process. What it does is force a new election. But what is significant is that this is the largest portion of a state’s electorate to petition for the recall and removal of their sitting governor in the history of the United States. This has never happened at this level before. California recalled Gray Davis, but the portion of the electorate that signed the petitions to recall Gray Davis in 2003 was only half the proportion that you’ve seen here in Wisconsin. And that’s really significant, because at the end of the day, when so many people rise up, sign petitions, take that affirmative act—and remember, signing these petitions was not an easy thing. You had to sign two petitions, in some cases three, if you had a state senator, and that took the—that took quite a bit of time. You had to fill out names, etc., often on a freezing cold street corner with snow coming down. That people would do that, I think, sends an incredibly powerful signal.
I was struck this morning as I listened to the show. You know, we began talking about this incredible revolt against SOPA. Then we talk about the successful push against the Keystone pipeline. Now we talk about what’s happening with a million people rising up to get rid of an anti-labor governor. And I think to myself, when you put this together, there’s a people power moment going on. And Wisconsin is a part of it. What’s exciting is that most of our media doesn’t know how to cover protest movements very well, unfortunately. But they do know how to cover elections. And the likelihood is that sometime this year, probably late spring or early summer, the Governor of Wisconsin will be forced to face a new election, because he adopted the austerity agenda of the Republican and conservative leadership in Washington and tried to balance budgets on the backs of public employees, tried to destroy their unions, tried to cut school funding, tried—and succeeded in cutting local funding. And we’re going to have a referendum on the most fundamental of economic issues. I think that’s incredibly exciting. And you can feel the energy already in Wisconsin.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And John, most people don’t realize that those million signatures represent about almost a half of the electorate in Wisconsin. Could you—when you say the proportion that the signatures represent.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well—yes, they represent almost half of the electorate in the last election, in 2010, and what you might reasonably presume to be the electorate that would participate in a recall election. It’s not all the electorate. There—Wisconsin, up until very recently, didn’t require you to be registered to vote before you went to vote. So, you know, we don’t know. A recall election could actually pull in hundreds of thousands of additional voters. This is a very exciting and very charged thing. But what is important to remember is that the size of that proportion of the existing electorate has never been achieved before.
AMY GOODMAN: Journalist Bill Sorem of The UpTake spoke with Wisconsin residents about the recall. One voter explained why she’s not a fan of the recall effort.
WISCONSIN RESIDENT: The whole idea of recalls doesn’t appeal to me a whole lot. I guess I think I’ve had way too many telephone calls, way too much garbage junk mail. And I think when voters make their choice in an election, that’s what it ought to be until the next election.
AMY GOODMAN: John, let’s get your response to that, and also talk about the unprecedented amounts of money that are going into the recall election on all sides.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, I always respect the voices of my fellow Wisconsinites. And so, I understand that that woman may be frustrated by the sense of a constant electoral process. And we will have that in Wisconsin. There’s no doubt. There are predictions that this campaign, the recall itself, could end up costing as much as $100 million, with tens of millions flowing in from outside Wisconsin, particularly the state of Texas, where Governor Walker has repeatedly gone to raise money from the same people who funded the Swift Boat ads back in 2004 against John Kerry. So we’ll have an ugly and difficult politics.
But I will challenge this notion that a sitting governor, or even a sitting president, should be able to serve out their term without challenge. And I just don’t think that’s appropriate. In this country, we fought a revolution in 1776 to oppose the notion of a king who could serve at his own will for as long as he lived. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. When a governor, as Scott Walker did, offends the basic sensibilities of his state and violates basic premises of labor rights and voting rights, it is absolutely appropriate to do a recall. That’s the progressive tradition in this country. It’s said that the point of a recall is to remove officials, not at the end of their term, but when they are threatening democracy. And I think in Wisconsin there’s an awful lot of people that think that’s what’s happening.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And John, I wanted to ask you about the issue of—this recall will require also that there be a Democratic primary and that candidates run against him, not just a recall, yes or no, on his continuing in office. Can you talk about the candidates that have so far stepped forward?
JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. The recall in Wisconsin sparks a whole new election. And so, there will be a Democratic primary, very likely. There could be a Republican primary. Governor Walker could face a challenge in his own party. In the Democratic Party, there’s a number of candidates who have stepped up. You have mentioned two of them: Tim Cullen and Kathleen Falk, both veteran Democrats who are very qualified to make the race. I think there will be a lot of other candidates who at least consider this, including Peter Barca, who is the minority leader of the State Assembly and made a lot of headlines, got a lot of attention, when he really fought back against the efforts to push this bill through, the anti-labor bill through, last year. In addition, there will continue to be talk about some high-profile, big-name possibilities, including former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold. Russ has said that he doesn’t want to make this race. It is not his intention to run. But the incredible number of signatures filed, over a million, has caused a lot of political players to kind of reassess the circumstance, and I don’t rule anything out as regards candidates. But I can tell you, the Democrats will have a credible candidate.