By Brendan O'Brien
MADISON, Wisconsin-- Organizers of the petition drive to recall the top Republican in the Wisconsin state Senate submitted what they said were more than enough signatures on Tuesday to force him to defend his seat in a special election later this year.
The Committee to Recall Scott Fitzgerald, which opposes the collective bargaining changes and other measures the Senate majority leader helped usher into law last year, dropped off 20,600 signatures at the offices of the Government Accountability Board on Tuesday morning -- nearly 4,000 more than the 16,742 needed.
As many as 17 Wisconsin state senators -- 11 Republicans and six Democrats -- as well as the governor and lieutenant governor could face recall this year in contests triggered by last year's fight over union rights. That could tip the balance of power in the state Senate, where Republicans currently hold a 17-16 majority.
Lori Compas, a spokeswoman for the Committee to Recall Fitzgerald, said the group was confident the signatures would be verified and that Fitzgerald, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1994, would have to fight to hold onto his seat.
"This is a proud moment," Compas said. "We worked really hard and we're really excited about what we felt on the campaign trail."
The filing of the petitions with the board will not automatically result in Fitzgerald's removal from office. But if the petitions are certified, the Juneau, Wisconsin lawmaker would face a special election later this year.
In a statement, Fitzgerald said he looked forward to defending his record, saying the reforms Republicans had championed over the past year had "balanced a massive budget deficit without raising taxes or resorting to layoffs."
Later today, organizers of the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will submit what they promise will be a sufficient number of signatures to force the first-term Republican to defend his seat in a special election.
Walker and the state's Republican-controlled legislature passed a raft of highly controversial measures last year, including strict limits on the union rights of public employees.
The anti-union measure triggered mass protests in Madison and a fierce political backlash from Democrats and union supporters.
Walker defended the measures, including strict limits on plaintiffs' right to sue, as necessary to address a gaping budget gap and to make Wisconsin more attractive to employers.
After forging ahead with a conservative agenda that included the successful passage of voter ID and concealed carry legislation, six Republican senators faced recall last summer. Ultimately, two were recalled.
(Writing by James B. Kelleher; Editing by Paul Thomasch)
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