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Our View: Time to reform Wisconsin's recall process

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opinion River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

There is talk of reforming Wisconsin's recall election procedures and we believe it is time for such a change.

We heard of the proposed recall changes in a release from State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf who reintroduced recall reform legislation in the State Senate as Senate Joint Resolution 24 (SJR 24).

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The proposal is intended to safeguard the ability of citizens to remove officials for misconduct or ethics violations, while ensuring that recalls would not be abused for political purposes.

What she says makes sense; however, some might consider her involvement as being a bit tainted since she was the target of a recall election. Harsdorf, of course, survived the recall election and the Republican probably is as knowledgeable as anyone regarding this subject.

After Act 10 became law in Wisconsin, 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 is 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 disagreed with. The recall process became nothing more than a "do over" to try and change the results of a previously completed general election. The recall provision in our state Constitution has been subverted for political gain, rather than for addressing corrupt behavior by elected officials.

Wisconsin voters found themselves in a non-stop election cycle during 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. The regular use of recalls to attempt to change the outcome of the most recent general election is not only costly to taxpayers, but can have the effect of discouraging elected officials from making the tough decisions that are essential in public service. Or, worse yet, prevent good people from seeking office!

One of the proposals introduced last session on recall reform sought to safeguard the ability of citizens to remove officials for misconduct or ethics violations, while ensuring that recalls would not be abused for political purposes. Harsdorf recently reintroduced this legislation in the State Senate as Senate Joint Resolution 24 (SJR 24), which seeks to amend the recall provision in the Wisconsin Constitution.

A constitutional amendment is required to reform the recall process. In order to amend the state Constitution, a resolution must be passed by both houses of the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approved by voters in a statewide referendum.

If all this were to come to pass, SJR 24 would require those petitioning for a recall election to meet a minimum threshold of criminal or ethical misconduct of an elected official prior to a recall being 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 some time, but we would encourage the continued movement of these measures. Ultimately voters will have the final word when it comes time to change the constitution.

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