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Effort to recall Wis. Gov. Scott Walker says it has more than half of needed signatures
MADISON, Wis. (AP) ' Organizers of the effort to recall Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker from office said Monday they have collected 300,000 signatures, more than half of what is needed to force an election.
The United Wisconsin coalition needs 540,208 signatures by Jan. 17 to force a recall election sometime in 2012. They reported Monday that over half the number needed had been collected in just 12 days, with signatures coming in from all 72 Wisconsin counties.
The recall drive was motivated by anger over Walker's proposal effectively ending collective bargaining rights for most public workers. The law passed in March despite massive protests and the fleeing of all 14 Democratic state senators to Illinois for three weeks.
Organizers' signature counts can't be independently verified. The petitions won't be submitted for verification before organizers have gathered more than the required total of signatures.
United Wisconsin did not report how many signatures had been collected for the recall of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, but a spokeswoman for the group said the totals were close.
Walker has already moved into campaign mode assuming the necessary signatures will be collected. He has released two television ads to counter the recall effort. The national conservative group Americans for Prosperity has also hit the airwaves in support.
Walker has defended the collective bargaining changes, and other moves such as cutting public education aid, as necessary to bring the state's budget back into balance at a time when it faced a $3.6 billion shortfall.
Ben Sparks, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party, called the recall effort "a baseless partisan power-grab being pushed on Wisconsin families by liberal special interests."
"We remain focused on Governor Walker's common-sense reforms that have laid the ground work for economic growth, and our economy only continues to improve," Sparks said in a written statement.
Anger spurred nine state Senate recall elections this summer targeting six Republican and three Democratic incumbents. Two Republicans lost, leaving them with a slim one-vote majority in the Senate.
Petitions are also circulating against four more Republican incumbents, setting up the possibility of more recall elections next year that could give Democrats control of the Senate.
The earliest a Walker recall could be held, assuming enough petitions have been collected, would be March 27. But legal challenges and additional time to verify the signatures is expected to push any recall election to later in the spring or summer. There could also be a primary.
No Democrat has announced plans to take on Walker. Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate has said Democrats are in no hurry to name a candidate and they hope to make the recall a referendum on Walker.