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WI's crazy politics have some wondering if rules should change

By   /   April 17, 2012  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — “Fake” candidates can run for political office, the Government Accountability Board ruled Tuesday, adding another chapter to what has been a bizarre 16 months in Wisconsin.

From 14 Democratic senators escaping to Illinois to prevent the Senate from voting on collective-bargaining changes to Republicans “farming out” redistricting to attorneys, “it’s been a wild ride,” University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist Barry Burden said.
GAB said Tuesday that the Republican Party of Wisconsin, or RPW, can run “fake” or “protest” candidates as Democrats to force primaries in the upcoming recall elections.
RPW Executive Director Stephan Thompson said he wants to keep Democrats from controlling the scheduling of recall elections, potentially separating the state Senate recalls from those for governor and lieutenant governor.
Democrats challenged the candidacies of six “protest candidates,” arguing they falsified information on candidacy documents, saying they were “affiliated” with and “represent” the Democratic Party, but GAB disagreed.
Arthur Kohl-Riggs, who protested at the capitol last year during the collective-bargaining debate, is running to force Gov. Scott Walker into a primary.
And people on both sides of the aisle are wondering whether voters will take advantage of Wisconsin’s open primary to “cross over” and mess with the other party’s election results.
“There’s sort of a one-upmanship happening — ‘If that side can do that, we can do this,’” Burden said.
With nine recalls last year, though, and at least six scheduled in 2012, people are wondering whether it’s time to take a serious look at election laws. 

Burden said campaign finance laws are insufficient for the times.

Walker, operating under a state law that allows officials facing a recall effort to collect campaign contributions without caps, raised $12 million alone in 2011.

Burden said he believes support may exist for changing the redistricting process following criticism this year that Republicans took partisanship to a whole new level during last year’s redistricting process. Redistricting occurs every 10 years to reflect the population shifts shown in the census.
And state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Burlington, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow those charged with serious crimes or ethical violations to be recalled. 

The law says lawmakers cannot be recalled during the first year of their term, and for a recall election to be ordered, “a recall petition needs to be signed by electors equaling at least twenty-five percent of the vote cast for the office of governor at the last preceding election, in the state, county or district which the incumbent represents.”

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. 

Wisconsin’s law is one of the strictest, according to Joshua Spivak, a recall expert who writes the Recall Elections Blog.

Most states either have a lower requirement for signatures, less than Wisconsin’s 25 percent, or give signature collectors longer than Wisconsin’s 60 days to collect the required number, according to Spivak and NCSL. 

But Wisconsin’s recall law was written a century ago, Burden said, before women even were allowed to vote.

The ability to share information online — from spreading news about recall efforts to making petitions available for anyone to download — has made hitting that 25 percent easier, Spivak said.

Wisconsin’s nine state Senate recalls last year made history. From 1908 to 2009, only 21 state legislators had been recalled.

The Badger State has made history again this year with the recalls against Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state senators.

In addition, efforts are under way to recall state Sens. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, and Dale Schultz,R-Richland Center, for their votes against a bill changing mining regulations this year.

Still, Wisconsin isn’t alone in its increasing love of the recalls.

In fact, of the 151 state and local recalls held last year, Michigan had the most with 31, Spivak said.

“Even though Wisconsin has just been pushing the pace here, it’s really been going on all over,” he said.

Vos’ amendment passed the Assembly on a near party-line vote, with only one Democrat voting for it, but the proposal died in the Senate.

For the constitution to be amended, two separate, consecutive Legislatures would have to approve the amendment, which would then be put on the ballot for final approval by Wisconsin voters.

The proposal does have the support of, perhaps surprisingly, Shirl LaBarre, who is leading the efforts to recall Jauch.

“Truthfully, yes, I do think that something like that should happen and I do hope it happens in the next (legislative) session,” said LaBarre, who ran unsuccessfully for state Assembly in 2010.

“I don’t know how they can even talk about the aisle to each other when they’ve done the things they’ve done,” she said.

But LaBarre said she believes the Jauch recall is valid because he voted against the mining bill simply to keep Walker from getting credit for bringing jobs to the state.

On Tuesday, Jauch told Wisconsin Reporter those were “unfounded, fictitious accusations.”

“I voted against a bill that sold out the public’s voice to protect the interests of the mining bill,” he said. “I was in favor of a fair, flexible, responsible mining bill that protected the public voice and did not weaken environmental standards.”