Democratic Party of Wisconsin chair Mike Tate will announce tonight at the annual convention that the party will try to recall Gov. Scott Walker when he becomes eligible for removal early next year. Once January 2012 hits, activists can gather signatures on a Walker recall, and Tate promises official backing from the state party for that purpose. (UPDATE: Theoretically, petitioners could start gathering signatures prior to that one-year date as long as they file after the one-year mark of Walker’s term.)

“We will not stand down — and next year, we will recall Scott Walker from office,” Tate will tell the crowd, according to the excerpts. “We will begin to repar the damage done to this state and we will begin a new with a Democratic Governor who will fight for our children, who will fight for our families, our teachers and our firefighters. We will fight for the people — not the powerful.” [...]

Elsewhere in his speech, Tate will give himself a bit of wiggle room, by claiming: “Should the people continue to rise up, continue to fight back, and continue to cry out for immediate change, we will recall Scott Walker from office next year.” But a Wisconsin Dem source tells me the wiggle room is mainly intended as a reminder that the decision to try to recall Walker will ultimately be dictated by the people of Wisconsin, not party chiefs.

Supporters would have to gather 540,000 signatures – 25% of the total votes in the 2010 gubernatorial election – in 60 days to trigger a recall of Gov. Walker.

This is a ways off, of course. First up you have the recall elections for six Republican state Senators and possibly three Democrats, set for sometime this summer. A court decision today will have some bearing on the timing of the recalls and whether or not they’ll all happen at once. NBC News has information that “Republican petitioners falsely identified themselves as state officials and lied to residents on the Menominee Indian reservation, claiming the (recall) petition was to increase Indian voting rights.” If the Government Accountability Office rules in favor of these claims, the recalls against Democratic Senators could get thrown out; that decision could be made as early as next Tuesday. But even still, Democrats have to flip three seats to take control of the state Senate and maintain their momentum.

Then there’s the signature gathering process, and the search for a candidate. Russ Feingold is flirting with a Senate run. David Obey just went to K Street, to take a job with Dick Gephardt’s lobbying shop. Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee who lost to Walker 53-46 in 2010, is the most likely candidate, if he chooses to try again.

This certainly reflects an aggressiveness on the part of the state Democratic Party, which is responding to the desire of their grassroots. But it also reflects a retreat into more of a traditional electoral strategy rather than a more subversive one to challenge Walker’s extreme agenda. In February, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites protested the anti-union measures Walker tried to enact. That bill is still tied up in state courts and may have to be passed a second time. But the activist response this time is more muted. In anticipation of passage of a very extreme budget, which could include those collective bargaining provisions, Defend Wisconsin is setting up tent cities outside the Capitol building. But it’s a planned and limited event for which they’re even getting permits. This is hardly the organic outpouring we saw in Madison this winter, and it feels kind of perfunctory to me. Any talk of general strikes or occupations of the Capitol has largely dissipated. Instead, Democrats and the youth/progressive/labor alliance will rely on the mechanisms of elections to retake control of the state. They probably will allow the budget to pass, rather than having the state Senate Dems walk out again to deny a quorum. The anti-union bill is likely to pass in this fashion. And while the agenda for any challenge to Walker will certainly include repeal, that’s sometimes easier said than done.

Meanwhile Walker continues to assault practically every coalition in the state. His budget would increase taxes on the poor to finance a tax cut for corporations. And he’s now including police and firefighters in the increased health care and pension contributions. Earlier, they were exempted because they supported his election. When police and firefighters turned away from Walker, he turned away from them.

I certainly hope that the recall of Walker will success, in addition to the recalls of the state Senate Republicans. And I hope that the worst policies of the Walker regime can be reversed. And who knows, maybe this is the right way to deal with this. General strikes are very hard to sustain, and we don’t really have a culture of them. But there was a moment here to opt for a very different kind of strategy to deal with an extremist, anti-worker agenda. It wasn’t taken.

UPDATE: Wisconsin Democrats already have a recall website up, where they plan to take names of people who want to recall Walker. They are looking to get 50,000 signatures in the first month. You can watch the convention speech live here.