Wisconsin releases recall petition names amid safety concerns

Story highlights

  • Some who signed the petition are concerned about their safety
  • Wisconsin's Public Records Law requires the release of the petition
  • Gov. Scott Walker drew the ire of labor unions and public school teachers last year
  • More than a million people signed the petition to recall him

Wisconsin released the names of more than 1 million people who signed a recall petition against Gov. Scott Walker, state officials said, despite safety concerns among petition signers.

"In the interest of full transparency, the board has always planned to release copies of recall petitions to anyone who requested them and to post them online," said Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel.

"However, we recently heard from a number of people who are concerned about their personal safety if their names and addresses are made public."

The state Government Accountability Board announced its plans Tuesday, citing Wisconsin's Public Records Law and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving the release of referendum petitions in Washington State.

The documents are posted on the board's website as PDFs.

"Weighing all of these concerns and public interests, we have concluded that the balancing test of the Public Records Law favors disclosure of the entire recall petition without redaction of information on a recall petition ..." the board's statement said, noting the public and officeholders have the right to view the petitions.

"Few processes in the electoral system or elsewhere are more public than the signing of recall petitions against state elected officials."

Before the decision, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican like Walker, said the signatures should be made public, stating the importance of transparency in the recall process.

"Our law I think is very clear that the maximum amount of information that is available should be made available," he said. "It's general knowledge that if you do something in public, that's going to be public information."

This would be the first time in Wisconsin's history that a governor has faced recall.

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In fact, there have only been two successful gubernatorial recalls in United States history, that of California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003 and that of North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier in 1921.

The more difficult battle will begin once the signatures are approved, and the state schedules a recall election. Both sides will be well financed and ready to battle, said Kenneth Goldstein, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Walker was undaunted by the recall effort, CNN affiliate WTMJ reported.

"The optimist in me looks at that and says: the overwhelming majority of the people in the state chose not to sign that and I earned the trust of the majority the last time. My hope is I will earn their trust again," he said.

Walker set off a firestorm in January 2010 when he moved to curtail the collective bargaining rights of most state employees.

With majorities in both houses of the Legislature, Walker and his GOP allies voted to limit raises for public employees except police and firefighters to the rate of inflation, bar unions from deducting dues from workers' paychecks and force them to hold a new certification vote every year. That bill was signed into law in March, following weeks of protests at the state capitol building in Madison.

Republicans insisted it was necessary to control the skyrocketing costs of public employee benefits and close the budget shortfall. Democrats argued it was an attempt to gut public-sector labor unions, one of their core constituencies.

The public brouhaha all but shut down the Wisconsin state legislature for weeks. It also drew protesters by the tens of thousands, among them union supporters and public employees, who called the measure an attack on workers. A group of Democratic lawmakers left the state for some time in an effort to not allow a quorum for a vote.

Eventually, the law was passed and signed by Walker in March.

The state Supreme Court upheld the law in June, but the battle sparked a storm of political activism that led to the recall effort.