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Making recalls safe, legal and rare

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Sep 29, 2011; Section: Opinion; Page: 8A

Making recalls safe, legal and rare

Raise the threshold for petition signatures

OK, let’s revisit state Representative Robin Vos R-Burlington. Right after the recall elections, Vos decided that Wisconsin spent too much money re-fighting the elections of 2010. He also believes that Wisconsinites do not want to live in a state with constant elections.

The sentiment for continuing the recalls seems to be waning. A recent poll by the MacIver Institute found that 50 percent of Wisconsinites are opposed to recalling Gov. Scott Walker. While the far left continues to talk of recalls, Democratic heavyweights wonder if it would be worth the millions in Democratic contributions that could be better spent elsewhere.

Still, there are those like former Democratic political consultant Bill Christofferson who would love for a permanent political campaign. Not only has he called for the recall of the governor, he’s hoping Democrats attempt to recall more Republican state senators, including those that were elected in 2010.

You can see why Vos and his fellow Republicans would be concerned. Not only as a practical matter of protecting themselves, but on a philosophical level that the recall process should not be about allowing a minority of voters to constantly attempt to override the votes of the majority in the last election.

For example, the recall elections this last summer provided a rematch between Democrat Jessica King and Republican Randy Hopper. Hopper won the first contest between them 41,904 votes to 41,741 votes. King won the rematch in the recall 28,811 votes to 26,937 votes. In the first election Hopper had 13,093 more votes than King did in the rematch.

The ability of the minority to force a do-over on an election is growing thanks to the Internet. Suddenly the threshold for a recall, a petition signed by 25 percent of those who voted in the last election for governor, is not so formidable. Recall organizers have the added advantage that they are free of any campaign finance limits.

The state Government Accountability Board would like to make the process even easier by allowing groups to post petitions online that a person could download, sign, and mail back to the organizing group. The Legislature is questioning whether that’s a wise interpretation of the law and whether it should be allowed.

So recalls have gotten easier and threaten to get easier still. If something is not done, we may enter a period of permanent election campaigning in Wisconsin.

Vos would change the state constitution to allow recalls only in the case of a criminal conviction or an ethics violation. To change the law, Vos would have to get both chambers of the Legislature to vote in favor of the amendment in two sessions. Then the matter would be referred to the public to vote their approval in a referendum.

It’s not impossible to change the state constitution. It actually happens with surprising frequency. But the question is, is this the right cure for the problem?

Unfortunately, if we are limited to Vos’ parameters for recall, we are limiting ourselves to levels of conduct that should compel the Legislature to remove the member without waiting for the recall.

If the constitution were changed to allow a recall only in those cases where the organizers were able to get a majority of those who voted in the last election to sign the petition, then we would go back to limiting recalls to those cases that truly require them.

This would allow the public to decide for themselves whether a politician’s conduct merits a recall, while at the same time preventing a dedicated minority from forcing elections over and over again until they get the result they want despite the will of the majority of the voters.

Bruce Murphy of Milwaukee Magazine points out that before the recent rash of recalls in 2011, recalls for state legislators occurred just four times from 1926 to 2010, twice successfully. If we’re going to return to that era of keeping recalls “safe, legal and rare” (to use a favorite Democratic phrase) lawmakers should focus their efforts on increasing the threshold necessary for a recall to occur.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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