Editorial: Let's reconsider how politicians are recalled
There's talk of reforming Wisconsin's recall election procedures. We believe the time is right.
Recall changes have been proposed by State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). She reintroduced recall reform legislation known as Senate Joint Resolution 24 (SJR 24).
The proposal is intended to safeguard the ability of citizens to remove officials for misconduct or ethics violations, while ensuring that recalls aren't abused for political ends.
What Harsdorf proposes is sensible. However, some might consider her involvement as tainted since she was the target of a recall election.
Harsdorf, of course, survived her recall and is probably as knowledgeable as anyone regarding this issue.
After Act 10 -- budget deficit legislation that affected public employee bargaining and compensation -- became state law, recall election talks surfaced like mosquitoes on a summer night.
First it was Democrats going after Gov. Scott Walker and various Republican senators. In retaliation, Republicans began recall proceedings against many Democrats.
The recall war was alive and well. Most state representatives escaped the flurry because they are only two-year terms and the recall process takes a fair amount of time.
There's nothing wrong with having recall laws on the books.
Most states, however, have certain provisions for recall elections.
In Minnesota, there must be some evidence of criminal or ethical misconduct of an elected official.
In Wisconsin, however, voters found that recalls became part of the political process. Recalls were activated when an elected official supported, or voted for, a bill that a segment of voters opposed. The recall process became a "do over" to try to change the results of a previously completed general election.
The recall provision in our state Constitution was used as a political club, rather than for addressing corrupt behavior by elected officials.
Wisconsin voters found themselves in a non-stop election cycle in 2011 and 2012. Special interests and activists were able to insist on election after election to try and further their political goals. When the dust settled, little had changed.
The Government Accountability Board found that the recall elections of 2011 and 2012 cost taxpayers nearly $18 million, much of which fell upon property taxpayers.
Regular use of recalls to try to change the outcome of the most recent general election is not only costly to taxpayers, but can discourage elected officials from making tough decisions essential in public service.
A spate of recalls may also turn away qualified people from seeking office and depress voter turnouts. After all, some voters will be turned off by repeated elections or feel their votes are only short-lived and therefore meaningless.
A constitutional amendment is required to reform the recall process. In order to amend the state Constitution, a resolution such as Hardorf's must be passed by both legislative houses in two consecutive sessions, then approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
If all this occurred, SJR 24 would require those petitioning for a recall election to meet a minimum threshold of criminal or ethical misconduct of an elected official before a recall is certified.
For those who believe this is a partisan issue, keep in mind that the balance of power shifts back and forth over the years. The same rules apply to all.
Both parties will benefit in the long run. There is also a separate bill being put forward to extend the same rules to elected officials at all levels, including local elected officials.
It will take time, but we encourage the continued movement of these measures. Ultimately voters will have the final word when it comes time to change the Constitution.
Online Poll: Question may be premature
With much colder weather, even wet snow, forecasted this week, the Journal's online poll question might seem ironic: What excites you most that spring may finally be here? Early responses:
--Sun, warmth, birds, going outside, 47.4%
--Turning off furnace, putting away snowblowers, shovels, coats & boots, 26.3%
--Baseball, outdoor sports, 21.1%
--Growing and planting things, 5.3%
Add your vote by going to www.riverfallsjournal.com