Wis. Assembly To Consider Limiting Recall Reasons

Topics: From the Wires,

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — In the face of an expected recall election targeting Gov. Scott Walker and four Republican state senators, Wisconsin lawmakers were to consider a proposal Tuesday that would amend the state constitution to make it more difficult to toss an official from office.

The measure would only allow officeholders to be recalled if they have been charged with a serious crime or if there is a finding of probable cause that they violated the state code of ethics.

Under current law, no grounds are needed to seek a recall.

Republican supporters, including the amendment’s sponsor Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, say changes are needed to limit recalls given the flurry of such efforts over the past year. Republicans say Walker and the others are being unfairly targeted simply for doing their job.

The recalls are largely motivated over anger related to Walker’s proposal that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers. It was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year.

Last summer, six Republican and three Democratic state senators stood for recall. Two Republicans were tossed from office, leaving the GOP with a slim 17-16 majority in the Senate.

This year, four more Republican state senators, Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch could face recall elections as soon as May. Election regulators are in the process of verifying recall petition signatures and calling the elections.

It’s not surprising that the proposal has come up in Wisconsin given last year’s recalls and the ones pending against Walker and others, said Joshua Spivak, a recall expert and senior fellow at Wagner College in New York.

“Any time there’s a controversial recall, there’s discussion of changing the recall,” he said.

However, changes are almost never made because “voters kind of like the recall,” Spivak said.

There was talk of limiting recalls in California after Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003, but Spivak said no significant changes were made.

In Michigan, a constitutional amendment similar to the Wisconsin one was introduced last year just weeks after a Republican state representative was recalled from office. That proposal has not gone anywhere.

Even if the Wisconsin Assembly passes the proposed change Tuesday, it is a long way from becoming law. It would also have to pass the Senate this year and then pass both houses of the Legislature either next year or the year after. And then, it would still have to win approval in a statewide vote before being added to the constitution.

Wisconsin is one of 18 states that allows for recalls of state elected officials. Of those, only seven limit the reasons for recall to malfeasance in office. Those are Georgia, Montana, Rhode Island, Washington, Minnesota, Kansas and Alaska.

A 19th state, Illinois, allows only for the recall of a governor.

Nationwide, there have only been 32 attempts to recall state lawmakers from office and 17 have succeeded. Only one of those targeted, a state senator from Washington in 1981, came from a state with the higher malfeasance standard.

That shows that the malfeasance standard makes it much more difficult to target someone for recall, Spivak said.

“If it is adopted, it really kills recalls,” he said.

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