By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Ah, Wisconsin, a state known for its beer, brats, cheese, Packers, recalls.
Emphasis on recalls.
Wisconsin voters last summer took part in an unprecedented nine Senate recalls, and the subsequent results narrowed the GOP majority from five votes to one, 17-16.
Different year, similar story.
The process is a point of frustration for lawmakers, and it's costing taxpayers.
State Rep. Robin Vos, R – Rochester, on Wednesday reiterated the need for recall reform.
Vos introduced in the latest session a resolution seeking a constitutional amendment to change the threshold for recall in Wisconsin. An elected officer, says the bill, "may be recalled only if he or she has been charged with a serious crime or if a finding of probable cause has been made that he or she violated the state code of ethics.”
Three Republican senators face recalls in June, as do Republicans Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
A committee to recall state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and an exploratory committee to investigate the possibility of recalling state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, were launched this week. The two lawmakers are seen by the respective committees as impeding passage of a controversial mining bill.
Legislation to streamline the permitting process for ferrous mining, and potentially allow for Gogebic Taconite LLC to create a $1.5 billion open pit iron mining operation in northern Wisconsin, passed the Assembly but failed in the Senate, with Schultz the lone Republican voting against the bill.
Jauch, a 26-year state senator, represents the people living in the proposed mine site.
The atmosphere of recall has created a veritable gauntlet for legislators, who seemingly face the sword of recall with every vote cast.
As it stands, elected officials can be recalled for any reason, the only requirement being for petitioners to gather signatures representing a quarter of the Wisconsinites who voted in the previous election.
Vos's resolution passed the Assembly on March 6, a week and two days before the session ended, with all Republicans and one Democrat, Peggy Krusick of Milwaukee, supporting the measure.
The resolution was not brought to the Senate floor, although it had the support of state Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, who survived two attempts at recall.
“I thought the process should be changed, that there needs to be a reason given for a recall, and the reason given should have some malfeasance or criminal behavior or betrayal of trust in the public office,” Holperin told Wisconsin Reporter.
Despite his vehement support of an Assembly bill that, he thinks, would have opened the door to iron ore mining in northern Wisconsin and to thousands of jobs, Vos doesn't agree with the efforts to recall Schultz or Jauch.
“I don’t know if that’s the right answer,” Vos said. “I don’t believe in recall.”
Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said she wouldn't be surprised if the resolution was introduced during the next session of the Legislature.
"The amount of money that’s going to be spent on this, locally, is really frustrating,” she said.
The state's Government Accountability Board estimated this round of recalls will cost taxpayers $9 million, an amount Vos expects to increase before the process ends.
Candidates, special interest groups and political action committees spent an estimated $44 million on last summer's recall campaigns.
Recalls, Vos said, are bad for business.
“We’re never going to grow jobs if we have a constant state of political chaos,” he said.
Kurt Bauer is president of the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business interest group. Bauer in January said Wisconsin business owners “are increasingly alarmed by the constant recalls and political instability that compounds increased regulatory pressure from the federal government."
“…(t)he constant threat of recalls undermines not only our democracy but our economy," Bauer said in a statement.
About 7 percent of respondents to the WMC’s annual economic outlook survey of state employers cited recall reform as a way to improve the state’s business climate. That figure was greater than responses for “bring business to Wisconsin, affordable health care, tort reform, education and economic development.”
But supporters of Wisconsin's recall system, the legacy of the state's early 20th century progressive champion U.S. Sen. Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette, argue the mechanism for political relief is fair and effective.
Joe Heim, political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, doesn't agree that recall campaigns targeting lawmakers for their votes square with the notion of being fair but, he said, Vos's proposal isn't necessarily the answer.
"The problem with Vos's proposal to me has to do with high crimes. Who decides that?" Heim said.
And, like them or not, he said, recall enlivens democracy in Wisconsin.
Holperin said he wants recall reform, but he doesn’t see it happening in the next legislative session.
“I don’t think anything is going to pass this close to the actual recalls. I think some time needs to lapse with the recalls going on. That’s going to take a few years,” Holperin said. “I think people think this is not how government is supposed to work. I think people will support narrowing it.”