March 11, 2011- The lead pollster for Gov. Gray Davis (D-Calif.) in 2003, the year Davis was turned out of office by a recall election, says he is bullish about the prospects of forcing recall elections in state Senate districts in Wisconsin this summer and predicts that Democrats will succeed in recalling Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) next year.
The recall process in Wisconsin is daunting. Only incumbents who have served at least a year in office are eligible, so Walker and the entire state assembly are exempt from recall efforts until January 2012. Sixteen of Wisconsin's 33 state senators are currently eligible — eight Republicans and eight Democrats — and recall efforts have been formally initiated against all but two of the Democrats.
To force a recall election in a given district, petitioners need to gather — in just 60 days — at least 25 percent of the votes cast for governor in 2010 in each district. The signature threshold amounts to roughly 13 percent of Wisconsin's eligible voters statewide, or roughly 15,000 signatures in each district, though the exact number per district can vary widely.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Craig Gilbert reports that little precedent exists for an attempt to recall state legislators on such a wide scale:
Scholars interviewed last week could cite only three times in American history when more than one state legislator has been recalled at roughly the same time over the same issue: two in Idaho in 1971 over a pay raise, two in Michigan in 1983 over a tax vote and two Republicans in California months apart in 1995 over their collaboration with Democrats.
But Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster who worked for both Gray Davis and the Democratic ticket in Wisconsin in 2010 — and who, full disclosure, I worked for from 1986 to '89 — said he believes the efforts to force recall elections in Wisconsin will succeed. His Wisconsin clients include Sen. Herb Kohl, former Sen. Russ Feingold and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat who Walker defeated in last year's gubernatorial race.
Drawing on his work for Davis, Maslin said he believes both sides will succeed in gathering the necessary signatures to force recall elections. "I can remember many, many conference calls," he told The Huffington Post, "where various people who were supposedly experts" doubted the ability of Davis' opponents to force a recall. "The bottom line was, they had no problem getting the signatures. And this [was] 2003, before the advent of Facebook and social networking."