Doug's Diggings: A new political trend -- defeat is unacceptable!
If you've been following politics -- or many other activities for that matter -- a new trend is rapidly emerging: defeat is unacceptable.
There are, and has been, recall elections all over the state of Wisconsin. In some ways it even filters down to our local level. The school land purchase referendum passed by a 57-43 percent margin, yet there seems to be those who are intent on overturning the will of the people by not rezoning the dog track property to allow a future school. Agree, or disagree, but I believe the voters have made their intentions very clear on this issue! Those who voted "yes" assumed -- rightfully so -- that the details of obtaining the property would be resolved without much fanfare. Hopefully that will be the case.
The big example, of course, is the explosion of recall elections around the state of Wisconsin. Last year the state saw nine recall efforts (against six Republican and three Democratic senators). But that was merely a warm-up for 2012 when recall efforts were launched against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four more Republican state senators.
Now there are Republicans in northern Wisconsin looking to recall a couple of Democratic senators over the blockage of a bill to create an iron ore mine.
The Wisconsin recall amendment passed in 1926. At the time the recall amendment passed, supporters thought it would be a great tool to keep the influence of money out of politics. The thought was no politician would bow to special interests if constituents had the power to remove them from office in a recall effort.
Another interesting twist, proponents argued that collecting 25 percent of the electorate's signatures would be such a massive effort that it would be used only in the most extreme cases. Well, guess what -- "extreme" is a relative term today. Unfortunately the 1926 politicians didn't use the words "illegal" or "malfeasance" (that is the recall standard in many states, including Minnesota) when drawing up the documents.
Recall is rapidly becoming a tool to try and overturn the results of an election -- as one writer said, a "do over." The recall is now more about policy decisions than corruption.
Another minor change that may have influenced recall elections was a change in the Wisconsin law in 1967. The terms for governors, state senators and many other offices were extended from two years to four years. When the recall momentum started, the four-year terms made recalls more feasible. Under state law, a politician can't be recalled until he/she has served in office for at least one year. That's why there has been no effort to recall assembly representatives in Wisconsin. They serve two year terms. After they complete their first year, a recall effort would push the election to within months of the regular election.
A major item that was not foreseen in 1926 was the ease of collecting signatures from 25 percent of the electorate. Up until just a few years ago, collecting a half-million-plus signatures (needed in governor's recall) was a nearly impossible task. Technological developments have made identifying and targeting recall petition signers, and collecting signatures as easy as pushing a button.
Recall supporters argue that use of the recall process is provided for in the state constitution and is a very democratic process -- can't argue with that. On a Democratic Party website it says: "The exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right to force a recall election is a just and proper tool to force accountability upon those elected officials who act as if there is none."
I can't argue with the above quote because the recall laws written in Wisconsin in 1926 don't fit today's political world. And if you think this is a Democratic initiative, think again. Republicans have the same tools and will be more than happy to use the recall process when the day comes that Democrats regain control of the Capitol. There will be a day in the future when the Republican website will proclaim: "The exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right to force a recall election is a just and proper tool to force accountability upon those elected officials who act as if there is none."
Because people can no longer accept the outcome of elections, it is becoming apparent that the recall process will likely become a regular tool to ensure that the state of Wisconsin will be engaged in perpetual elections. This year alone will see six elections in Wisconsin. We had a primary in February, a spring election in April, we will have a recall primary in May, a recall election in June, a fall primary in August and a general election in November.
Oddly enough, the original recall amendment was passed to keep the influence of money out of politics. The exact opposite has happened. Big money (both parties) can now, through spending money and using technology, force a recall election of any elected official for any reason.
At some point in time, some political party is going to have to incorporate some language that limits recalls to politicians who demonstrate illegal activity or some sort of malfeasance in office. Recall elections based on policy disagreements create a very slippery slope and will prevent most politicians from making tough, and sometimes, controversial decisions.