Reporting from Washington — In the latest escalation of the state's battle over public employee union benefits, Wisconsin Democrats initiated an effort to recall Republican state senators who back Gov. Scott Walker's budget proposals.
"In 60 days you can take Wisconsin back by recalling the Republican senators who have decided to push Scott Walker's divisive attack on the rights of workers and his assault on schools, universities and local communities," state Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate says in a letter seeking funds for the recall campaign.
Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states that allows voters to unseat sitting lawmakers. Under state law, an elected official can be subjected to a recall campaign only if he or she has been in office for one year.
Republicans control the Wisconsin Senate with 19 of 33 seats. If Democrats successfully recalled three of the eight Republicans they are targeting, they would retake control of the chamber. Tate pointed out that one was elected by a margin of just 184 votes, another by just over a thousand.
"Make no mistake, these Republican senators are vulnerable to recall for their radical partisan overreach," he said.
Recall efforts have already been launched against sitting Democrats who have fled the state to forestall a vote on Walker's proposals. The new effort against Republicans, however, has the support of not just the state Democratic Party but also local and national labor unions.
"Starting today, day by day, one by one, we will begin taking our state back before Gov. Walker is able to take it backwards," Bryan Kennedy, president of the Wisconsin American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.
That organizing power is key, given the requirements that come with a recall effort. Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, said each individual recall effort requires verified signatures of no fewer than 14,733 registered voters, depending on the district.
The party now has 60 days to collect those signatures. Magney estimated that if the petition drives are successful, a recall election could be held by July. The incumbent being targeted is automatically on the ballot, and an individual seeking to challenge him or her must get 400 signatures to qualify. If multiple challengers emerge, a primary recall would be held as well.
Walker, who took office on Jan. 3, cannot yet be targeted, though a fundraising committee has been established with the intent of doing so next year, Magney said.
Another national poll released Wednesday shows Americans backing the position of state workers on the key issue driving continued protests. Sixty-two percent of those surveyed in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll say it's unacceptable to eliminate public employees' collective-bargaining rights as a way to deal with state budget deficits, while 33% support doing so.