Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Anti-Recall Patriots

Suddenly it’s become patriotic to oppose recalls. Wouldn’t Tom Ament be surprised.

By - May 14th, 2012 07:36 am

In a recent interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gov. Scott Walker wrapped himself in a new kind of patriotic flag, one that abhors the impact of recalls on our democracy.

“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.

Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) has offered a medical analogy to define the utter terror of recalls:  “Recall elections are like a cancer,” he declared. The legislature must “apply chemotherapy immediately to try to stop the cancer from spreading.”

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?

Categories: Murphy's Law

12 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Anti-Recall Patriots”

  1. Jeff Jordan says:

    In my opinion, this “do over” recall election is going to be decided by people that bought into Walkers austerity approach during the campaign and Democrats, who were for whatever reason, were no shows on election day. The voters who thought the budget process had to be revised got the surprise of their lives when they found out how Walker planned to do it. And those “Blue Dog” Democrats that so valued their right to carry guns, found out what that was going to cost them. And the no shows, well look at the eligible voters population, the amount of us who vote and that tells you a lot about participatory government. We get the government we deserve.
    I think Walker deceived people and he did it deliberately just as the county supervisors who voted for their retirement policies. If he had told people how he planned to balance the state budget he would have never won. If you can’t be honest about what your going to do, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

  2. Stacy Marconi says:

    There is no end to this hall of mirrors. Once hypocrisy becomes the rule the ironies just keep reflecting off each other and becomes an endless argument about the process instead of the product. Ordinarily more democracy would be a good thing if we talking about the stuff that really matters.

  3. Sparke says:

    Dr. Walker to Dr. Vos: “Well, the operation was a success. Too bad the patient died.”

  4. D says:

    Scott Walker was recalled by fewer Wisconsinities than the number that voted for him in 2010. If you cannot see how this undermines the democratic process, you truly are lost. A minority of voters essentially are given more power than the majority of voters.

    And for what? The attacks to workers rights? Funny how that works with Tom Barrett being the challenger. He used the same tactics in Milwaukee and benefitted from Walkers reforms. This recall is all about power, not rights. As far as im concerned, Walker has already won based on the job loss in this state and growth down South. The one constant in Wisconsin is the union influence.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @D “Scott Walker was recalled by fewer Wisconsinities than the number that voted for him in 2010. If you cannot see how this undermines the democratic process, you truly are lost. A minority of voters essentially are given more power than the majority of voters. ” So following this logic Scott Walker should not have become County Executive because it is exactly the same scenario. Further, you would be correct if a recall actually removed someone from office, it of course doesn’t. It simply forces an election, which I’m pretty sure is well pretty democratic. -just my thoughts

  6. Milwaukeean says:

    Clearly there are double standards at play here, but that’s not shocking news when it comes to the dog and pony shows being produced by both Wisconsin Dems and Republicans. As far as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel — They have been accused so many times of “liberal bias. Were the accusations are unwarranted? Could it be that MJS had something to prove in the other direction by those editorials? Or has Koch become one of their biggest advertisers (only kidding). Koch Products:

    But I digress. The real issue here is what Stacy Marconi touched upon above. “an endless argument about the process instead of the product”

    To Walker’s Critics:

    Is it that Walker’s changes (the product) are so bad?

    Or, is the problem really the lack of transparency and deception (the process) of how Walker went about making these changes?

  7. D says:

    @ Dave Reid

    This is not the same scenario as Tom Ament/Scott Walker. Tom Ament was recalled in response to one of the biggest scandals in Milwaukee history. A clear, despicable example of elected politicians lining their own pockets with the taxpayers money. In contrast, Scott Walker is being recalled for simply having a different political ideology. There is nothing corrupt about what he did. Walker has used the same tactics as other state governors and international governments that are dealing with massive budget issues. Do you really think that the state unions would have reacted any differently had he just forced them to pay into their healthcare/pensions?

    As for this being democratic, I think thats a stretch. Scott Walker won the 2010 election with over 1.1 million votes. Walker was recalled with only 900,000 votes and I have my doubts that was the actual number. 200,000+ Wisconsin voters had their votes erased by fewer signatures than Tom Barrett received votes in 2010! There is nothing democractic or fair about that. It’s a loophole that gives more power to the minority over the majority of voters. That’s far more voters than were affected by the 2000 Gore-Bush controversy.

  8. Rob says:

    D, the recall may have originated from Walker’s politics, but there’s a hell of a lot of evidence that he’s operated dishonestly and against the will of the people. There’s a new story of cronyism or bungled legislation every other week. If you’re upset that WI recall rules are too easy, then why has it been so much harder for Republicans to recall Democrats? Could it be that there’s a necessary level of interest lacking from Republican efforts? You may not like the results, but that’s democracy for ya. It takes a refined level of pettiness to complain about the rules only when they don’t serve your interests.

    And if you’re setting the bar for recalls at the level of “scandal,” then I’d suggest you pay attention to the upcoming John Doe trials and any future charges against Walker or his MKE Co. staff. That may not have been what started the recall process, but their timing (occurring after the recall election) may make the results of the recall election a moot point.

  9. Bill Kurtz says:

    Jeff Jordan, you’re on target. Someone should ask Walker why he wouldn’t tell people what he planned to do.
    There are two possible honest answers: One is yours, that he feared he’d lose if he told people what his plans were. The other is that he didn’t expect to have the opportunity to bust unions, since he knew his plans would never pass unless Republicans won majorities in both houses of the legislature- so why mention something he might never get through?

  10. D says:


    This isn’t democracy for us. It’s a loophole that is being exploited to benefit special interests–ie. the unions. This entire recall effort is being paid for and run by the unions and their beneficiaries. Millions of dollars pulled from the pockets of hard working union workers around the country for nothing more than to prove a point and cement power in a single state. This has nothing to do with workers rights, it’s all about their power. And in that way, how are they different from the Koch Brothers or major corporations? That’s the difference between right and left. The right isn’t organized to the same degree and there aren’t any corporations that have that level of power/influence. The unions proved this last year that they have near unlimited amounts of money to spend and an army of rabid minions (many from out of state) to do their bidding.

    I wouldn’t defend this if the Republicans were doing it either. This recall has undermined the democratic process in this state and we can’t even judge the level of damage. If Walker losses, expect the right to become even more fierce. Say goodbye to anything nice being paid for with their tax dollars in Milwaukee (ie. a new arena, mass transit). This coming from a moderate that voted for Walker but supports Milwaukee. The recall will be an open wound for years and frankly, you need the Republicans to do anything in this metro area. I don’t blame them for hating Milwaukee at this point because Milwaukee is trying to undermine the vote they cast in 2010.

  11. Dave Reid says:

    @D “This recall has undermined the democratic process in this state and we can’t even judge the level of damage.” It has, a recall which is done for the explicit point of calling an election is not democratic? huh.

    ” If Walker losses, expect the right to become even more fierce. Say goodbye to anything nice being paid for with their tax dollars in Milwaukee (ie. a new arena, mass transit).” I think we said goodbye to any help a long time ago.

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