Recalling the recalls with Robin Voss
It almost feels... strange... not to have another round of recall elections looming in the immediate future. August has gone back to being the quiet month, time for vacations and outdoor festivals (or just continuing to work, as many of us have to do). And reflection, of course.
Isthmus was kind enough to give me space in this week's paper to have my say on the final results of the senate recalls (you can read it online here, too). Basically, while both sides are spinning the results claim victory, what I see, more than anything, is that people really, really want our elected representatives to represent all of us. We want an actual exchange of ideas so that the legislation passed better serves the interests of everyone in the state and not just a few. There is too much hardcore ideology and not enough meeting in the middle to discuss and find common ground -- and this applies to both Republicans and Democrats.
Ignoring entire segments of your constituency is liable to get you recalled from office, as it turns out. At the very least it shifts the mood of the electorate enough to threaten that possibility, and that's as it should be.
Of course, there are those who would see Wisconsinites' ability to hold their elected officials accountable for their actions by restricting their ability to hold a recall in the first place. Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is currently working on a proposed constitutional amendment that would "more clearly outline when state officials may be recalled."
Vos would like to require that very specific reasons be given for recalling someone, because, he claims, "No longer should taxpayer dollars be wasted on unnecessary recall elections that were triggered by a vote that some special interest group didn't like."
Apparently "large portions of the population" now means "special interest group" to Vos. I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that his party lost two of its members to the recalls, while no Democrats were ousted from office. Call be crazy but I strongly suspect Vos wouldn't have gone ahead with this amendment if Republicans had done better in the recalls.
Regardless, the idea is bunk -- bad for both parties and, more importantly, bad for the people of this state. By being made to jump through extra hoops just to get a recall going, such an amendment would essentially be putting excessive burdens on our right to put a check on the excesses of governing officials.
And surprise, surprise -- guess who's behind Vos' legislation? Why it's our good friends at Wisconsin Manufacturer's and Commerce, who even have a handy onlin talking points guide to support the move.
In it they blame recalls for creating "instability" in the state and hampering job creation, and claim that "These recalls have been a wasteful distraction foisted on the citizens of our state by national labor unions."
Anyone who has been involved in the recall efforts -- against both Democrats and Republicans -- knows first-hand, however, that the national labor unions had very little to do with the process. It was grassroots organizing between the people who showed up at the Capitol this winter, and those around the state who felt similarly, that saw the unprecedented collection of signatures. Labor unions, PACs, and other third-party interest groups certainly spent a lot of money during the actual campaigns, but they weren't the driving forces behind the efforts themselves.
WMC doesn't seem to care about facts, though, so much as they care about making sure they have as many of their bought-and-paid-for legislators up at the Capitol as possible. Recalls for what they call "policy disagreements and political shenanigans" would certainly (and have already) target those very people the most.
You can bet their lending a helping hand as Vos drafts the proposal. The language hasn't been made public yet but the idea would be to require that "criminal and ethical wrong-doing" be proven before a recall against an official can move forward.
An interesting facet of this tack comes into play when you consider the cases of Justices Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman, both of whom have been found guilty of ethics violations. I don't suppose Vos is intentionally trying to pave the way for their recalls, but that would certainly seem to be the case.
The important thing to note is that, if the amendment actually manages to pass two sessions of the full Legislature and a statewide referendum (doubtful), citizens would be made to wait for the courts or other governmental bodies to weigh in on the matter before going ahead with a recall. That rather defeats the purpose of a recall, don't you think?
No money for those Madistan Police nuts
This is rich: Rep. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) is just incensed that the Madison Police Department and Dane County Sheriff's Office would like to be reimbursed by the state for the hundreds of the thousands of dollars spent on providing security at the Capitol during the height of the protests.
DCS and MPD, Nass says, shouldn't see a dime because, they "made significant decisions to ignore the appropriate duties of law enforcement and instead directly encourage a specific partisan political outcome during this government crisis."
I can only assume this has something to do with that awesome "palace guard" line Sheriff Dave Mahoney delivered during the turmoil, but Nass's nasty letter also came in direct response to a news release (PDF) from Rep. Terese Berceau where she said that "the additional security costs for the Capitol during the protests were incurred as a result of Gov. Scott Walker's 'paranoia toward the people of Wisconsin.'"
Those costs to the state for providing the massive security presence at the Capitol during the protests has been calculated at over $8 million. According to the above-linked article:
Madison is asking to be reimbursed $682,842 for services it provided, including $555,098 for police, $37,719 for fire personnel, $79,148 for Metro Transit and $10,876 for use of the fire department's command center. The state expects to pay Dane County $534,081.
Seems entirely reasonable to me, but then, I'm not a politician.
Frankly, Berceau isn't wrong to point out the excesses in security that resulted from a seeming surfeit of paranoia on the part of the governor and Republican lawmakers. The protests were almost entirely peaceful. Police and demonstrators enjoyed incredibly amicable relations until the now well-documented DOA/Walker clusterfrak that led to the barring of most exits, bolting shut of windows, and unnecessary overstaffing and overworking of security personnel dragged in from across the state.
A more well-organized response to the protests would likely have led to better security at lower taxpayer cost, but then we'd have to have a more well-organized and thoughtful administration in power to pull that off.
A rare display of bipartisanship on behalf of Wisconsin health
I'm not the only one who thinks DHS Secretary Dennis Smith's refusal to seek over $9 million in federal grant money for state health programs is a terrible idea. Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) and 30 of his colleagues in the Assembly, both Democrat and Republican, recently sent a letter (PDF) to Smith asking him to reconsider:
Wisconsin has earned the dubious distinction of having the highest rates of drunken driving and binge drinking in the nation. Nevertheless, you still decided not to apply for two federal health grants totaling $8.6 million over the next five years to fight substance abuse in Wisconsin...
In addition to ask you to support programs that help prevent and expand treatment for substance abuse, we encourage you to do everything in your power to make health care accessible and affordable for all Wisconsin residents. We were disappointed by your decision in April to decline to support an application by ABC for Health to renew its federal grant for enrolling eligible people for BadgerCare Plus…Your decision not to support the important and necessary work of a nonprofit public interest advocate like ABC for Health appears to be unprecedented. Similar requests for federal health funding have consistently been supported in the past by Republican and Democratic administrations alike.