Should We Change the Way We Recall Our Elected Officials?
State Assembly approves proposed amendment to the state Constitution that makes it harder to recall elected officials but measure still has long way to go.
Under what conditions should residents be able to recall their elected officials? According to state Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), the reasons need to include more serious offenses than just disagreement.
The state Assembly on Tuesday approved a proposed Constitutional amendment that would limit recalls to malfeasance in office or for other serious criminal offenses. The vote was 60-37 along party lines, with the exception of one Democratic representative from Milwaukee siding with Republicans.
Last fall, Vos communicated with residents via his e-newsletter about the amendment, saying: "The legislation puts forth real grounds for a recall, which includes being charged with a serious crime or violating of the state code of ethics."
His reasons, he wrote then, included the high cost of the summer recall elections of nine state senators; six Republicans and three Democrats. In January, Vos received word from the Government Accountability Board that a single recall election with Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch could cost taxpayers as much as $9 million. Add in a Democratic primary and the recall elections of the four state senators targeted - including Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) - and the price tag could jump to $20 million.
Amending the state Constitution isn't easy. Vos' measure still needs to be passed by the Senate this session and then approved again next session by both houses of the Legislature. And then has to be approved in statewide referendum.
Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) voted against the amendment because he said the state Constitution is deliberately open-ended about how and why citizens can recall since there are already measures in place to deal with malfeasance and ethics violations.
"The right to recall has been in the Constitution for nearly 100 years for a reason; to hold officials accountable," he told Patch on Saturday. "The irony of those under recall voting against that right is something citizens won't miss."
Mason also said the drafters of the state Constitution understood the seriousness of a recall which is why they put high benchmarks in place. In the end, though, recall is available to the public when the public feels their elected officials have violated their trust.
"A high threshold of 25 percent of the electorate and waiting for an official to have a year in office are safeguards put in place so the law isn't used frivolously," he added. "But I caution Republicans in their support of this amendment because it is not impossible that a day will come when the public is frustrated with Democrats. Do they really want to take away the public's right to hold them accountable?"
In a story by The Associated Press, Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College in New York, say getting the public to support an amendment that restricts recall will be a tough sell.
"Any time there's a controversial recall, there's discussion of changing the recall," he told AP. But, overall, voters like recall and he points to measures to curb the right to recall that failed recently in both California and Michigan.