Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor, faces the prospect of becoming only the third US governor in history to be recalled from office, with his opponents expected on Tuesday to submit enough signatures to force a referendum on his continued rule.
Mr Walker prompted weeks of mass protests, including an occupation of the state capitol building, last year when he proposed scrapping collective bargaining rights for most public-sector workers in Wisconsin, a move he said was necessary to tackle a projected $3.6bn budget deficit.
After the bill eventually became law, critics of Mr Walker vowed to remove him from office. They launched a drive last year to collect enough signatures to prompt a recall election, and are expected on Tuesday to present at least 720,000 names demanding a vote, well above the 540,000 needed.
Mr Walker’s budget proposal turned Wisconsin into the site of a national political tug of war, with liberals and small-government conservatives from across the US facing off in the Badger state.
Barack Obama attacked the Walker plan as “an assault on unions”, while John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said Mr Obama’s “own political machine” was helping to organise “Greece-like” protests in Wisconsin.
The outcome of the recall effort – which also reflects the frustration of America’s squeezed middle class – will be closely followed in Washington, where Wisconsin is expected to be a key battleground state for President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
The issue of collective bargaining has caused political confrontations across the US Midwest, in a host of states that Mr Obama hopes to win to ensure his re-election. Voters in Ohio, a critical swing state, rejected a law that limited state workers’ collective bargaining rights and forced them to pay more towards their healthcare and pension costs, in a referendum in November.
In Indiana, the state legislature is considering contentious “right to work” legislation, which would make it illegal for work contracts to require employees to pay union dues. A similar proposal is likely to be tabled in Michigan later this year.
In Wisconsin, Mr Walker’s critics have widened the campaign beyond collective bargaining, saying he also has failed to live up to his self-promotion as a job creator and attacking him for joining other Republican governors in rejecting federal funding for building passenger rail infrastructure.
The recall election, which is likely to be scheduled for the middle of this year, is forecast to cost Wisconsin $9m.
“This selfish effort is expected to cost our local governments millions of dollars, but the Democrats continue to show that no price is too high for a grab at the governor’s mansion,” said the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
The recall effort is also targeting Rebecca Kleefisch, Mr Walker’s deputy, and four Republican state senators.