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COMMENTARY: Is there a better way to recall? Yes!

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By Kevin Binversie

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As the Wisconsin Summer of Recall reaches its finale Tuesday with the elections for Democratic state Sens. Jim Holperin in the 12th District and Robert Wirch in the 22nd, some lawmakers are looking at reforming the process. 

One is state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Racine, and co-chairman of the budget writing Joint Finance Committee.

This week, Vos announced he is drafting a state constitutional amendment to change the recall laws. In his news release, Vos said he wants to end perpetual campaigns triggered by what he calls “a vote some special interest group doesn’t like.”

Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos’ office, told Wisconsin Reporter that these changes would make Wisconsin’s recalls similar to those in Rhode Island. The changes would force recall organizers to list a reason. Acceptable reasons would include an elected official being indicted or charged with a felony, convicted of a misdemeanor or caught violating the code of ethics. 

Vos said he hopes to have the constitutional amendment before the Legislature in September. To take effect, the amendment must pass two consecutive sessions and a referendum no sooner than 2013.

While borrowing from the Ocean State might be one option, taking a page from the Golden State would be more advantageous to ending special interest-driven recalls. In California, you don’t need a reason to have a recall, but you face an added level of voting.

In what would be, in essence, an automatic primary, California voters must decide by a “Yes / No” question if they want to continue with the recall. At the same time, candidates wishing to take on the incumbent are battling it out in a primary election. If enough voters say “Yes,” the recall election takes place. If more voters say “No,” the recall ends. It’s a built-in shutdown valve to stop abuse of the system.

This sort of shutdown valve system would make any charges of “fake” or “placeholder” candidates a moot point, because Wisconsin voters would vote on the “Yes / No” question anyway. It also could increase primary election turnout, as campaigns on both sides would have a reason to be at the polls.

In addition, it would be an ideal chance for those disgusted by the entire recall process to protest.

Do we really need a reason to recall an elected official in Wisconsin? It’d be nice given recent events, but it also is an attempt to stifle the will of individuals who may indeed have a legitimate issue with elected officials. A better option is to shut down frivolous recalls earlier in the process and give power to citizens who want none of the above.

Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at kevin.binversie@franklincenterhq.org.

 

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