It’s uncommon for a gubernatorial or state legislative election to make national headlines. But the upcoming recall election of divisive Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who could be booted less than two years into the job, has been closely tracked by the media and voters, who may be watching the results of the June 5 recall election with a looming thought on their mind — could that happen where I live? The ability to remove an unpopular politician from office, driven by the sheer will of unhappy constituents, is a power that could certainly inspire exasperated citizens. However, that power is not universal. Only 18 U.S. states allow for the recall of state officials, while one other, Illinois, solely permits the recall of a governor (a recent development inspired by the fall of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich as the result of a corruption scandal.) Wisconsin’s recall will pit Walker, a Republican, against Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whom Walker defeated in the state’s 2010 gubernatorial election. Walker, a Tea Party favorite, campaigned on a deeply conservative platform pledging to, among other things, cut collective bargaining rights for certain state employees in order to pay for a series of tax cuts. That provoked the ire of Democrats and public sector workers, who say the new governor penalized them in order to preserve tax breaks for the wealthiest Wisconsinites.
Walker has plenty of opponents. The organizers behind the recall effort, United Wisconsin, collected almost 2 million signatures in support of his recall in less than two months, more than three times the 540,000 needed. But, according to the latest available polling, he still has a seven-point lead over Barrett. Even as Walker has become a figure widely reviled on the left, he has history on his side — at least when it comes to the success of gubernatorial recalls. Recall attempts are far more common in local jurisdictions (at least 29 states have the power to recall local officials, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures); on the state level, only two governors have been successfully recalled: Lynn Frazier of North Dakota, in 1921, and Gray Davis of California, in 2003.