Skip to content

Recall efforts in Wisconsin

April 5, 2011

We elect representatives every two years both at the national and state levels. If you don’t like the kinds of laws they are passing, you generally have to wait until the next election cycle to remove them. That’s what conservatives and independents did in 2010 after the disastrous election of 2008.

If you’re a liberal, however, patience isn’t your strong suit. Why wait? Get out into the streets and protest. If that doesn’t scare the legislators, recall them. That’s what is happening in Wisconsin.

In the United States, recalls only happen at the state level. Along with the initiative, the referendum, and the direct primary, the recall election was one of the major electoral reforms advocated by leaders of the Progressive movement during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Colorado has all of these reforms as does Wisconsin, arguably the home of progressivism. If an official is successfully recalled, an election is held to pick the replacement.

Recalls were meant to cover bad behavior–the kind of thing officials can be impeached for–yet they can and do in practice also include votes on policy, especially when it involves taxes. Rarely do recall efforts succeed: Only two lawmakers have ever been removed from office through recall in Wisconsin, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.

Even if not successful in removing a legislator from office, a recall can threaten the legislator into compliance. That kind of bullying is a favorite union tactic and they’re engaging in it full throttle. One block from the capitol, they’ve set up a phone bank to target three Republican senators: not because these three are different from the other GOP senators, but because they are in districts the unions think they can turn. Jose Bucio, an AFL-CIO coordinator from Milwaukee, said the union has no plans to leave Madison or give up on the collective bargaining issue. “We’re here to try to get back what we need,” he said. “The battle’s not over.”

The AFL-CIO does have public employee union affiliates in Wisconsin. Yet in order to win more sympathy, the unions have framed the issue as collective bargaining rights for all unions, not just public employee unions.

And yes, the Republicans are pushing recalls, too. In their case, the basis is the fact that the Democrat senators fled the state and abandoned their duties. “The number of active recall committees is unprecedented,” said Reid Magney, spokesman for the nonpartisan Government and Accountability Board, the body charged with overseeing the process.

Nineteen committees are in the process of collecting signatures. The accountability board recently ruled that committees could accept unlimited donations to support the signature-gathering process–this is certain to help the unions.

Recalls face an uphill battle. I recommend reading the full Green Bay Press Gazette article if you’re interested in all the details. Dennis Dresang, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said “You don’t want this done on a whim. You really want it done because there is a serious breach of trust.”



Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: