By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker won’t challenge any of the 1 million petition signatures seeking his recall from office because his campaign staff didn’t have enough time to scrutinize them all, a top aide said Monday.
The Republican governor had until 5 p.m. Monday to challenge signatures submitted last month. Despite being granted a 20-day extension to pore over the recall petitions, Walker’s campaign managed to look through only about 400,000 of them, campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said. She said the campaign determined that 10 percent to 20 percent of those 400,000 were erroneous, including entries that listed fake addresses and names, including Donald Duck’s.
“We have essentially been given an impossible deadline,” Matthews said.
The Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin elections, still has three weeks to determine whether at least 540,208 of the signatures are valid. That is the minimum number needed to trigger a recall election. And the Walker’s campaign asked the Government Accountability Board on Monday to consider the findings of two tea party affiliated groups that have been examining the signatures independently.
But those behind the efforts to recall Walker and five other Republican, including Democrats and their allies, have said they are confident that the elections will go forward.
State Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said it’s absurd that Republicans have been complaining that the Walker recall petitions were laced with fraud, yet didn’t challenge a single signature.
Whether any election happens and when remains unclear.
A Waukesha County judge ordered the GAB to verify the signatures’ authenticity independently. The board has until March 19 to determine whether recall organizers have enough valid names. If they verify a sufficient number of valid signatures, they must order an election to take place in six weeks. That would place the contest in late April.
GAB officials, though, have said they don’t want to hold it then. Local clerks will still be wrapping up filing and paperwork from the April 3 spring election, which includes a presidential primary, they said.
And if multiple Democrats challenge Walker, the election would become a primary. A general election would follow a month later.
Walker’s campaign filed documents with the elections board Monday asking it to continue checking the signatures and to consider challenges proposed by the two tea party groups that have been using volunteers to examine the petitions, Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty and We the People of the Republic.
The GAB already has ruled it won’t accept third-party challenges, however GAB spokesman Reid Magney said the board had received nothing from the tea parties as of late morning Monday. The groups’ leaders, Ross Brown and Tim Dake, didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
Democrats and their allies, including many of the state’s most powerful public worker unions, are trying to recall Walker, Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four GOP state senators, including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, as payback for a Walker-proposed law that stripped most public workers of collective bargaining rights.
Walker said he had to make the move to help balance the state’s budget deficit and give local leaders the flexibility they needed to cope with sharp cuts in state aid. Democrats, though, saw it as a direct attack on unions, one of their staunchest campaign allies.
Tens of thousands of people converged on the state Capitol for three straight weeks last spring to protest against the proposal. Minority Democrats in the state Senate fled to Illinois in an ultimately futile attempt to block a vote. Republicans who control the state Assembly and Senate passed the measure anyway and Walker signed into law last March.
Democrats have been hungry for revenge ever since. They ousted two GOP state senators in recall elections last summer, narrowing the GOP’s majority in that house to just one vote. If they can defeat just one of the four senators in this latest round of recalls, they’ll gain control of the chamber.
The victory would be mostly symbolic, though. The legislative session ends in three weeks and lawmakers aren’t due to return to Madison until January, rendering a Democratic majority powerless.
Even if Democrats manage to take the governor’s office and the Senate, they won’t be able to advance legislation because Assembly Republicans would never take it up.
The four GOP senators have filed their own signature challenges. Kleefisch has until March 5 to file her challenges.
The GAB has until March 19 to scour those signatures, consider the challenges and decide whether to order elections.