The Anti-Recall Patriots
Suddenly it’s become patriotic to oppose recalls. Wouldn’t Tom Ament be surprised.
“If somebody other than me is elected on June 5th, it will have fundamentally changed elections in Wisconsin,” Walker predicted. “I think you’ll have a recall the year after. And a recall the year after. And a recall the year after. It will be recall ping-pong. It will go back and forth. I think that’s a horrendous outcome. Employers will be scared to death of that. You’d see a retraction of jobs as people move somewhere else.”
No, Walker didn’t predict a plague of locusts, but his message was clear: his defeat would forever darken the political landscape of Wisconsin.
JS editorials have echoed Vos’ doctorly stance, diagnosing “recall fever” and decrying the “poisonous atmosphere” it has caused. Another editorial echoed Walker’s prediction of recall ping-pong, suggesting there could be “a wave of recalls following his.”
“Politicians, regardless of party, should not be recalled over one issue or one (or even several) votes,” the editorial maintained.
Funny. When the Milwaukee County pension scandal broke, it involved just one issue. Yet the Journal Sentinel ran an orgy of front page stories, hammering Milwaukee County Executive F. Thomas Ament and the Milwaukee County Board unrelentingly for months. A recall effort was launched against Ament (who resigned rather than get thrown out) and nine or ten supervisors (seven were successfully recalled). None of these politicians were accused of misconduct in office (which Vos and the Journal Sentinel believe should be the only possible reason to recall a politician from office). Yet the paper did everything it could to induce recall fever with its news coverage. Apparently, it likes some recalls better than others.
The Journal Sentinel, and conservative bloggers like Christian Schneider, argue it has become too easy to recall public officials. On the contrary. “Historically, recall attempts at the state level have been unsuccessful,”the National Conference of State Legislatures has noted.
Its data shows that since 1913, when the first recall laws were passed, there have been just 33 recall attempts of state officials in the U.S. and 17 that were successful. That, by the way, includes last year’s wave of legislative recalls in Wisconsin. This election will add five more recall attempts for Wisconsin and the nation.
And it’s much tougher to do a recall in Wisconsin. Wisconsin requires anyone wanting to recall a governor to get enough signatures equal to 25 percent of those who voted in the last election. Idaho requires just 20 percent, Georgia and Oregon and Rhode Island 15 percent, California only 12 percent.
No state makes it easier than California, yet the recall of Gray Davis didn’t create a ping-pong effect. There has been no attempt to recall a governor since.
The bar in Wisconsin is so high that no one ever thought a governor could be recalled. I was among those who predicted the opponents of Walker could never get that many signatures. Wow, were we wrong.
Schneider has argued that back in the horse-and-buggy days, it was harder to organize a recall. If so, that would only be a reason to increase the number of signatures required. But is it really so easy to recall a governor today? Then why wasn’t Gov. Jim Doyle recalled?
Schneider, after all, has argued that Wisconsin was actually more divided under Doyle, citing a poll showing 55 percent of voters disapproving of him compared to 47 percent who disapproved of Walker.
Yet opponents of Doyle tried to organize a recall and gave up; they couldn’t get anywhere near enough signatures to recall him. Schneider also says Wisconsin has “always housed deep divisions.” Yet no governor in history had ever been recalled until now. The JS editorial condemned another example of those dreaded single issue recalls: Opponents of state senators Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) threatened to recall them from office because they opposed legislation to make it easier for mining companies to operate in Wisconsin. But neither recall materialized. Recalls aren’t easy.
Have there been excesses in the recall process? I think Democrats have wasted our time targeting some state senators they have no hopes of recalling. And Republicans have perverted the process by running fake Democrats in order to force a primary election in each case.
But excesses come with any kind of democratic process. That’s not a reason to eliminate recalls.
The irony of all this conservative opposition to recalls is that most recalls in Wisconsin have been organized by conservatives and championed by talk radio. Indeed, it was the demise of Ament which led directly to Walker’s election to county executive, and gave him the platform to run for governor. Walker was once a big fan of recalls. Now he decries their impact on Wisconsin.
Misconduct in office is something that’s typically policed by the legislature or legal system, whereas recalls arose out of the old Progressive tradition, with the goal of making public officials more answerable to the electorate. If you believe in recalls to throw out Democrats like Ament, how can you oppose them for Republicans like Walker?