Time for a change? Voters resoundly dislike WI recall law

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Gov. Scott Walker

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter – MADISON — When a “Daily Show” sketch pokes fun, equally, at Wisconsin Republicans andDemocrats, well, it might be time for the state to rethink a few things.

In true “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” form, correspondent Wyatt Cenac ridiculed Wisconsin’s recall laws in a nearly five-minute segment that aired Tuesday night.


Speaking to Democratic attorney Jeremy Levinson about Gov. Scott Walker, Cenac said, “I’m just confused, did he break the law? Was he caught with prostitutes?”

Levinson: “Umm, no. The recall process is a safety valve on the system for those rare circumstances in a four-year term where whoever was elected …:”

Cenac: “So when you say those rare circumstances, you mean when someone gets elected you don’t agree with?”

Levinson: “Ummm…”

The “Daily Show” audience laughed, and then it was the Republicans’ turn to squirm.

Republican Isaac Weix: “I’m running as a Democrat in the lieutenant governor’s race.”

Cenac: “Wait, wait, wait. You’re running as a Democrat.”

Weix: “Yes.”

Cenac: “So you’re a Republican running as a fake Democrat…”

Weix: “Don’t use fake Democrat.”

Cenac: “But you’re gonna do that… .”

Weix: “Everything that is being done is perfectly legal.”

The sketch is light-hearted glance at Wisconsin’s recall election laws.

But in the wake of Tuesday’s historic recall elections involving Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and lawmakers in four state Senate districts, some say it’s time for recall laws to get a more serious perusal — this time, by lawmakers and Wisconsin voters.

“It’s inevitable that this is what happens (after recall elections), that they immediately say, ‘How do we change this?’” said national recalls expert Joshua Spivak, who writes the Recall Elections Blog. “Every recall of renown has that.

“That’s the first order of business,” Spivak said. “And then nothing changes.”

Pundits and politicians already are arguing about the implications of Tuesday’s recalls, in which Republicans won five of the six elections, but Democrats appeared to have taken a majority in the Senate by winning the fourth Senate election.

One thing is clear from exit polls, though. Wisconsinites, plain and simple, just didn’t like the recalls.

Only 27 percent of respondents to exit poll questionnaires Tuesday said recall elections were appropriate for any reason, according to Edison Research.

Sixty percent of the 2,457 voters who responded said recalls only were appropriate in cases of official misconduct, and 10 percent said recall elections never were appropriate.

Walker handily won among people who only sometimes or never support recall elections.

“The silent majority was out there, and I think people were fed up at all the recalls, and I think they wanted to come out and voice their opinions,” said Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald,R-Horicon, a candidate for U.S. Senate.

In the most recent legislative session, State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, proposed a constitutional amendment limiting recalls of officials to those charged with serious crimes or ethical violations.

The amendment, however, did not pass the Legislature.

Any constitutional amendment must be passed by two separate, consecutive legislatures before approved via voter referendum.

Nineteen states allow recalls of state officials, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which provides research and support for lawmakers and legislative staff.

Only eight states list specific grounds for recall.

Spivak said there are several ways to tweak Wisconsin’s recall laws to address concerns.

Most, though, still would require an amendment to the state Constitution, which lays out the recall procedure in Article XIII, Section 12.

Under state law, recall organizers have 60 days to collect a number of signatures from an elected official’s district that equals 25 percent of the vote in the previous gubernatorial election in that district.

Spivak said lawmakers could increase that percentage.

But, he said, “Wisconsin’s law is not easy. Sixty days is very short. Twenty-five percent is not easy.”

Lawmakers could eliminate the recall primary as well — potentially halving the cost of the recalls by having one, not two, elections, he suggested.

The Government Accountability Board has estimated the cost of the recall elections at $18 million.

Although momentum to change the recall laws spikes after the election, Spivak said, it tends to die down quickly.

“It feels like incumbency protection,” he said. “And that’s why it never happens.”