Recall election in Wisconsin a national bellwether
By: Robert E. Meyer
Political opponents of Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin announced they had nearly double the amount of signatures legally required to proceed with a recall election. While I expected the opponents of Walker to get the necessary signatures before the deadline date, I was surprised to discover that they procured over a million signatures. There was an aggressive house-to-house canvassing campaign, as well as numerous signing locations that were readily accessible to the public. Of course, we might quickly observe that a signature on a petition does not equate to a vote at the polls come election day. In addition, there is a verification process to validate signatures that could take several months to play out. Adding to the complications, is the fact that the Democrats have not had a flood of top tier candidates rushing to be the opponent of Walker. Political pundits place the time of the actual election no earlier than May, or perhaps even June–a time of the year when many people are thinking more about summer vacations than watershed elections. By that time, the legislature will likely be out of session, so even were we to see a change in the political structure brought on by the recalls, it could be cancelled out again in the November elections, before the recall results take effect. Even so, neither side is taking the election lightly. For Walker’s opposition, this election is an effort to reverse a loss of political power that began in November of 2010, when they lost a majority in the State Assembly. Recall elections held last summer regained two of the seats previously lost, but not enough to regain a majority. Not only is the Governor’s office in play, but the Democrats are also attempting to recall State Senators, which would help regain political control of the State Senate. Walker opponents also attempted an indirect seizure of power by backing a relatively unknown candidate for State Supreme Court Justice against an established conservative incumbent, David Prosser. They were defeated only by only a few thousand votes in a controversial election that required a recount. In Wisconsin, there is currently a 4-3 conservative majority in the high court. The State Supreme Court was seen as crucial in the interpretation of civil suits brought to invalidate Walker’s legislative initiatives that curtailed collective bargaining privileges for state employees.
Walker backers have criticized the recall process complaining about the financial burden and cost of the process. But the objection is a waste of time and effort. It rings hollow because the same folks generally supported a voter ID law that will also be expensive to implement. My own perspective is that the expense is just a painful part of the political process which must be endured to reach one’s ultimate objectives of political victory. Neither side should expect the other side to simply go quietly into the night.
My straight advice to conservatives in Wisconsin, or those who will face similar situations in the future in other states, is to turn out enthusiastically at the polls, getting your revenge on election day. In the mean time, make an articulate case for your position, putting an inquisitive stone in the shoes of others. Competing in volleys of epithets and name calling is lowering yourself to the level of the people you condemn.
My own view on the recalls is that they are necessary due to a regression in citizenship. The Wisconsin Constitution never defines any limitations on the reason for recall, because the legislature never assumed a recall would happen on account of the losing side refusing to recognize the result of the election. I personally think recalls should be reserved for gross misconduct or malfeasance of office. Of course, the end result will be dueling recalls, increasing polarization and less civility. Everyone talks about more civility, as if merely calling for a truce automatically makes one more enlightened. As expected, nobody actual does anything to promote it, though. Furthermore, the recall process will only insure the elections of more “do nothing” politicians, unwilling to risk anything for fear of losing their position. We will simply see the maintenance of the status quo, without any unpopular, statesmen-like actions in times of financial crisis.
In some recent presidential elections, Wisconsin has voted narrowly in favor of the Democratic presidential candidate. More importantly, the recall elections in Wisconsin may be a bellwether for the national election this fall, and for future budgetary policy actions of various state governors and legislators.
Most people, whether protesters or supporters of Walker are decent, law abiding folks. Some of them got caught up in the herd mentality or emotional vitriol in a moment of passion. Most people are not rigid ideologues, but become the useful idiots of those who are. Rather than demean them in this column, I would point you to a brand new book, “Mobocracy” written by a friend and mentor Dr. Jake Jacobs. Jacobs is an expert on American history, and visited Madison, Wisconsin several times, interviewing protesters and observing the group dynamics during the height of last winter’s protests. Jacobs documents the history and philosophical underpinnings of these types of movements.