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Locals help deliver Walker recall petitions to Madison

Barb Greub, Pierce County, totes a box of petitions as she begins her walk to carry the signatures to the Government Accountability Board Jan. 17. Photo submitted1 / 2
Nan Lambert, St. Croix County, wears warm winter clothing and a big smile to help officially file a bankers box of recall petitions. Photo submitted2 / 2

She hoisted the bankers box of recall petitions to her shoulder, holding it there with her right hand and sauntered triumphantly down the line, high-fiving the yellow-vested volunteers along the sidewalk.

Nan Lambert's grin as she made that short walk from a U-Haul truck to Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board office was exuberant. Barb Greub made the same brief trip a little less boisterously, but the smile that lighted her face was just as joyful.

Lambert is an unemployed mental health worker from the town of Troy. Greub, who is retired, lives in River Falls. The two were chosen to represent St. Croix and Pierce counties, respectively, when the call went out for a person from every Wisconsin county to help hand-deliver 3,000 pounds of petitions seeking the recall of Gov. Scott Walker and other state-level officials.

The Jan. 17 delivery of the petitions to the GAB in Madison culminated two months of work collecting signatures.

"The night of the 16th was like Christmas Eve, and I was like a 5-year-old," said Lambert, explaining she was so excited she had trouble sleeping.

The volunteers met in at Monona Center Convention Center and marched en masse up to and around the Capitol. What started out as about 300 people grew to about 500, said Lambert.

"A lot of people just joined in," she said, adding "There was tons of media. This was an historical event."

The petitions had been gathered offsite under guard and were brought by truck to be offloaded.

"It was a small U-Haul," said Lambert. "I expected a much larger truck."

One by one, each of the county representatives was handed a bankers box of petitions and walked down a path lined by recall workers.

The trip to the GAB was less than half a block long, and Greub said each box weighed about 25 pounds.

"Not heavy," she laughed. "Not for a farm girl."

The actual delivery process took about an hour, Greub estimated. One by one each volunteer was handed a box and walked past the row of volunteers wearing yellow vests.

"It was pretty much worked out for us," said Lambert of the process that day. "We were participants, and United Wisconsin orchestrated."

The atmosphere was festive.

"It was a party. It was a huge celebration," said Lambert. "There was singing and chanting with drums and horns." Stadium horns were blown, and a fire truck sounded its siren briefly as it passed, she said.

But the process in the GAB was efficient. As it came in, each box was marked and stacked.

"They shuffled us right out. We dropped off the box, and they sent us right out the door," said Lambert.

After the petitions were delivered, said Lambert, many people went on to the Capitol rotunda "and made a bunch of noise, sang and chanted and drummed. Kind of like, 'So there, we did it.'"

She added, "We just whooped it up for a little while and then we left."

Over the next couple of hours, people gathered in a convention room back at Monona Terrace and waited for the scheduled speakers.

"It was more people than I've ever seen," said Greub. "It was standing room only."

The mood, said her husband Lou, a retired UW-River Falls agronomist, was "exultant."

Lambert described the atmosphere as "really, really exciting, like ecstasy, gratitude, pride, joy. It was all real high positive energy."

She added, "People were just so happy. We made history in spades. They said it couldn't be done, but not only did we do it, we did it way up."

Barb Greub agreed.

"All these people had worked so hard for something so basic -- I was in awe," she said.

"You just felt like you were with so many other people who cared about people more than they cared about power," said Greub. "A goodly number of volunteers are working not so much for their own rights but for others' (rights)."

The weeks before

Lambert considers herself an independent and isn't a long-time political activist. Her real involvement, she said, started March 9, 2011. That day, with Democratic legislators boycotting the Capitol, Republicans pulled the non-fiscal items out of the budget bill and in Lambert's words, "tried to ram it through."

Greub became active at nearly the same time.

"My involvement in politics until Walker got in was just trying to be a knowledgeable voter," she said. But suddenly, "We realized we should have been paying attention earlier."

She said the new governor's actions during that time galvanized her.

"That signified to me that this man should not be our governor," said Greub. "It was his dictatorial mannerisms and lack of willingness to listen, his willingness to agitate."

Lambert helped with the recall effort against Sen. Sheila Harsdorf. Moving on to the Walker recall effort was the natural next step, she said.

While she didn't keep track of how many signatures she gathered, Lambert estimates she collected hundreds.

"I was out the first day and many after that," she said. "My spot was in front of Econofoods on Main Street (in River Falls)."

Greub didn't go out collecting signatures. Instead she worked in the Pierce County Democratic Resource Center in River Falls, checking petitions from seven counties -- Pierce, St. Croix, Dunn, Washburn, Burnett, Polk and Barron -- and mailing them in batches to Madison.

Her husband did collect signatures over the whole 60-day period, going door to door and working at fixed locations downtown.

"I was swore at for half a block down the street one day," said Lou of some of the reaction he heard. "I was told to get a job, go home where I belonged."

Despite a few, he said, most people were more cordial, he said.

"I got a lot of 'Thank you's,' and people were very sympathetic to what I was doing."

Barb Greub said the recall petitions were signed by Republicans as well as Democrats, by people who felt the governor had rejected democracy.

'The work begins'

"That was the easy part," said Lambert of circulating petitions. The hard part, she said, will be identifying a Democratic candidate and getting that person elected.

Will they be taking a break as the GAB sorts through the petitions?

"Actually the work continues," said Lambert. She said the next steps include educating people about the new photo ID requirement and voter registration.

"We need to figure this out and we need to do it quick," said Lambert. "This is a civic duty to help our fellow citizens."

"Now the work begins," agreed Greub, adding that the Resource Center will stay open and volunteers will turn to helping people vote.

"Here we're spending all this money for a solution to a problem we didn't have," said Greub. "(Walker's) solution is the problem now."

What happens now?

Organizers estimate the recall-Walker petitions they submitted to the Government Accountability Board last week were signed by one million Wisconsin residents, well above the 540,000 needed.

Now the GAB begins the process of reviewing the signatures to determine if they're valid.

GAB Director Kevin Kennedy said the first step is to scan the signatures into a database, using new software. Once that's done, the names will be put on the GAB's website.

The board has also set up a webcam so people can watch the review process.

By law, the board has 31 days to determine the validity of the signatures. But Kennedy said more time will be needed.

If the GAB verifies that United Wisconsin did submit the necessary signatures, Democrats will have six weeks to hold a primary, followed by an additional four weeks until a general election against Gov. Scott Walker would take place.

The earliest a recall election would occur is late May. The timing would be pushed back if the GAB is given extra time to process signatures or if lawsuits are filed on behalf of either party.


Last week former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk announced that she will run for governor in a recall election.

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, also said last week that she is contemplating a bid in the race because supporters have urged her to run.

Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, said he expects to make an official announcement of his candidacy soon.

Other names mentioned include Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, House Democrat Ron Kind, former House members Steve Kagen and Dave Obey, state Senate Democrat Jon Erpenbach and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.