MADISON – A Burlington woman launched an effort Friday to recall Democratic Gov. Tony Evers over the unrest in Kenosha and other issues.
The filing by Misty Polewczynski kicks off a 60-day sprint to try to gather nearly 700,000 signatures during the coronavirus pandemic.
The effort also gives the first-term governor a short-term benefit — the chance to raise unlimited campaign cash. Former Gov. Scott Walker used that ability to raise unprecedented sums during the recall campaign against him in 2012.
“The citizens of Wisconsin right now feel extremely unsafe,” Polewczynski said. “We’re not willing to stand by and watch our cities burn.”
Polewczynski also filed paperwork to recall Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. The same number of signatures are needed to force a recall election for him.
The petitions are due just before the Nov. 3 election. That could complicate organizing efforts in Wisconsin, a battleground in the race between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
“Trying to recall a governor with a 57% job approval rating in the midst of a global pandemic and civil unrest is irresponsible and absurd,” said Courtney Beyer, a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, citing an August poll by Marquette University Law School.
Polewczynski said she was motivated in part by what’s happened in Kenosha, where her brother lives.
People smashed windows and set fires in Kenosha after a police officer Sunday shot Jacob Blake from behind as he tried to get in his vehicle after a scuffle with cops. Police recovered a knife from his floorboard but have not given a full accounting of what happened.
On Tuesday, two people were shot to death and another was injured during protests over the Blake shooting. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old patrolling the streets with armed groups, has been charged with intentional homicide and other felonies.
Polewczynski said she and others involved in the recall effort were also frustrated by the spring stay-at-home order and recent mask mandate Evers issued to try to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
If enough signatures are gathered, state election officials would have to schedule a recall election. Evers and Barnes would automatically appear on the ballot and any other candidates from either party could run as well. Voters would decide whether to replace Evers and Barnes for their terms of office, which run until January 2023.
Organizers would need to gather nearly 670,000 signatures, or 25% of the total votes cast in the 2018 race when Evers beat Walker.
Gathering that many signatures is a difficult endeavor any time, and is likely trickier in the thick of a pandemic and presidential campaign.
But it can be done. In 2012, Democrats collected nearly a million signatures to recall Walker, well more than they needed. Walker went on to win his recall election, becoming the only governor in U.S. history to do so.
Polewczynski said she felt confident she could get the signatures needed to force the recall elections. She set up a Facebook page this week that as of Friday had about 12,000 followers.
The group is urging people to download petitions online. Volunteers will also knock on doors and gather signatures at events, including at rallies for Trump, she said.
Polewczynski said her group is not working with the state Republican Party or other established political organizations. She said she is hearing from Republicans, Democrats and independents who are frustrated with Evers.
Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, confirmed the party was not working with Polewczynski. He offered no other comment on the effort.
Normally, each donor can give a maximum of $20,000 to governors and lieutenant governors during a four-year election cycle. But under a quirk of Wisconsin law, those limits are suspended during the first part of a recall campaign.
That means Evers and Barnes can collect as much as they’re able to persuade each donor to give in the near term
During the 2012 recall, Republican megadonor Diane Hendricks gave Walker $500,000.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.