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Emily's Post: Sovereignty, recalls and the long haul
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The sovereignty of the people means we recall when we want

I've just read this excellent article by Marquette Associate Professor of Law Edward A. Fallone, and I suggest you do, too. In it, Fallone makes the case for the constitutionality of statewide recalls of elected officials, and takes to task those currently seeking to undo that right.

Specifically, Fallone is calling out the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board for their July 9 article denigrating the recalls and refusing to endorse any of the candidates in them, wherein they write that "[Recalls] are a very bad idea -- an extreme overreaction born from a long season of overreaction."

The Wisconsin State Journal also criticized the recall efforts over the summer, and I took both papers to task in one of my posts.

Since then, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), with brain plugged firmly into the WMC legislative mainframe, has decided to go so far as to draft a bill that would alter the state constitution to undo the people's right to recall.

All of this is terribly misguided -- and worse yet, goes against the very principles upon which our state and our nation were founded. Fallone makes the case: Neutering the constitutional provision protecting the right of recall is a violation of the sovereignty of the people.

Why should you care? Because such a move is indicative of a ruling class that fears and distrusts regular folk (that'd be you and me).

Vos and those who support the amendment want to force those seeking to recall elected officials to give a reason for the action, specifically to prove that said official was guilty of criminal offenses or ethics violations.

But, as Fallone points out, there's already a system in place to punish politicians found guilty of such offenses: impeachment. But impeachment can only be done by the Legislature, not the people, so such a move would be both duplicative and dangerous. How would the people hold their representatives accountable?

There are those who believe,however, that popular sovereignty is a myth -- and certainly it has nearly been reduced to that at the national level (that is, for better or worse, exactly what the tea party is, in essence, rebelling against). In the states, however, the power of the people is much more defined and defended in the various state constitutions. It would seem that the MJS and WSJ editorial boards, Vos, WMC, and their supporters are against all that. Fallone writes:

...some argued that...the sovereign power of the people only manifested itself on the specific dates of regularly scheduled elections. In between these elections, went this argument, the sovereign power to govern rested solely in the hands of those representatives of the people who had been elected by the voters.

I've heard this line of reasoning countless times. It amounts to, "You voted, now shut up." Call me crazy but that seems wildly anti-democratic.

Thankfully, the people of Wisconsin aren't terribly inclined to just cast their ballots and then keep their mouths closed. If the events at the Capitol this winter did nothing else, they certainly illustrated that truth loud and clear.

It's irresponsible of those editorial boards, lobbyists and politicians to fight against the people's rights to their place at the table of checks and balance.

And if there's a politician in this state who deserves to be recalled, Walker is at the top of the list.

So what now? According to recent numbers from Public Policy Polling the will to recall Gov. Scott Walker may be waning slightly in the wake of the Senate recalls. That's understandable -- it's been an incredibly tumultuous and difficult year for Wisconsinites, and we, rightly, would like a bit of a break.

That doesn't mean it's time to give up, but I believe it means it's time to think more long-term. There are groups agitating for starting the Walker recall campaign as soon as possible, which means November. However, as I've had it explained to me and thought about it for some time now, this timing seems ill-advised.

Collecting signatures over both the holidays and the harsh Wisconsin winter makes for a needlessly daunting and difficult task. Even if the effort was successful the recall election date would then likely fall in the spring, possibly even on the Republican primary. Obviously, none of that would help the recall effort.

Waiting to start the signature campaign until next spring, however, would mean that the recall date would likely end up getting rolled into the national presidential election in November 2012. Not only does that mean warmer months during which to collect signatures, but it also almost guarantees higher voter turn-out overall.

There is, then, the not-so-small matter of allowing Walker to remain in office for a moment longer than is necessary -- but, let's face it: Walker has already done quite a bit of damage to Wisconsin. We'll likely be discovering even more damage resulting from his administration's various assaults on the public as days pass (for instance, we just learned yesterday that changes to state employee health care benefits resulting from Walker's anti-collective bargaining bill are going to cost people up to $1,000 a year, and the bid to abolish the positions of Secretary of State and State Treasurer means only Walker oversight of the state's Trust Fund).

Plus, being that a viable campaign takes months to even get up and running, the fact that no one has currently declared even an intention to run against Walker in a recall means the movement needs more time. Former Sen. Russ Feingold had been polling strongly in a theoretical match-up with Walker, but now that he's announced that he won't be running for any office next year, it's back to the ol' drawing board.

We already knew that it would take years to undo all that Walker has wrought. Putting off a recall for even a few extra months, then, is a hard pill to swallow -- but necessary. A short delay, however, does not equal giving up -- nor should it.

Worth watching

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin is preparing to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed voter ID law. They argue that the bill, which will require anyone wishing to vote to present a valid photo ID to poll workers starting with next year's presidential primaries, "violates right to vote provisions of the state constitution not present in the U.S. Constitution."

Speaking of constitutions, did you know that Iceland crowdsourced theirs? After the country was forced to declare bankruptcy during the world economic crisis, then were being told that each individual would need to help pay off the debt incurred by irresponsible bankers and politicians, Icelanders kicked all the bums out, reformed their entire government, and decided to rewrite their constitution -- with the full involvement of the people. Now that's popular sovereignty for you.

It would be great if the Senate really would focus on job creation and protection this fall. I'm not holding my breath, however, that the now extremely narrow Republican majority means the GOP will be more willing to moderate and work cooperatively with Democrats. The fact that Rep. Michelle Litjens (R-Oshkosh) and Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) are hoping to introduce and pass a bill that would force women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds and be coerced by doctors into forgoing the procedure has nothing to do with job creation. It also has nothing to do with "protecting women," as the authors claim, and everything to do with limiting our rights. Let's hope the bill doesn't have a chance in hell of passing, and that it ends up being an anomaly amongst nothing but bipartisan, jobs-related legislation.

I'm not holding my breath. What we're more likely to see is Walker and the Republicans talking loudly about bipartisan cooperation, but acting in the same way they have since January 2011 -- unilaterally.

Follow the money: Two law firms with strong GOP ties have raked in more than $700,000 in taxpayer money this year as authorized by Walker to help clean up the mess left by his union-busting bills. The Troupis Law Office and the firm of Michael Best & Friedrich are likely to make still more off the state by defending the recent redistricting bill from a lawsuit. Former Gov. Doyle wasn't particularly good about this sort of thing either, but the per-hour fees awarded look like pennies compared to what the current contracts award: $175/hour vs. $395/hour.

Commenter PursuitofJustice lays it out well: (h/t Illusory Tenant)

Let me get this straight -- I work as an attorney for the state and earn less than $25.00 an hour. Walker hires his attorney buddies from the republican party at a rate almost 16 TIMES more per hour than I and many other state attorneys make and he calls us "haves?" Let's see ... $25 an hour versus $395 an hour. Why aren't the taxpayers crying foul over their tax dollars now? I guess all you Walker supporters think it is better value for your tax dollars to pay attorneys to clean up Walker's mess rather than to prosecute crimes or defend the poor.

I don't know why there isn't more outrage over this sort of deal. There have been no competitive bidding requirements in place for these contracts, as is the case in most other large stage contracts. The amount of money involved alone seems worthy of much greater scrutiny -- as does the direct connections between several Troupis and Best attorneys and the Walker administration.

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