Given our state’s experiences with recalls in recent years, many citizens have raised concerns that the recall provision in our state Constitution has been subverted for political gain, rather than for addressing corrupt behavior by elected officials. As we saw in the non-stop election cycle we found ourselves in during 2011 and 2012, special interests and activists are able to insist on election after election to further their political goals.
The Government Accountability Board found that the recall elections of 2011 and 2012 cost taxpayers nearly $18 million, much of which fell upon property taxpayers. The ongoing use of recalls to attempt to change the outcome of the most recent general election is not only costly to taxpayers, but can have the affect of discouraging elected officials from making the tough decisions that are essential in public service.
One of the proposals introduced last session on recall reform sought to safeguard the ability of citizens to remove officials for misconduct or ethics violations, while ensuring that recalls would not be abused for political purposes. I recently reintroduced this legislation in the State Senate as Senate Joint Resolution 24 (SJR 24), which seeks to amend the recall provision in the Wisconsin Constitution.
Since recalls of Congressional, legislative, judicial, and county elected officials are set forth in the state Constitution, a constitutional amendment is required to reform this process. In order to amend the state Constitution, a resolution must be passed by both houses of the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions and then approved by voters in a statewide referendum.
SJR 24 would require those petitioning for a recall election to meet a minimum threshold of criminal or ethical misconduct of an elected official prior to a recall being certified. It is my belief that recall elections are appropriate for removing those that have violated a code of ethics or criminal laws, but should not be used for differences over policies or decisions made by elected officials. General elections are the appropriate forum for voters to express their opposition or displeasure with policy decisions made by elected officials.
To ensure consistency with the recall process and fairness between elected officials at all levels, separate legislation is also being considered to extend these same recall requirements to local elected officials. This legislation has been introduced as Senate Bill 114 and Assembly Bill 128.
What are your thoughts on the need for recall reform? I welcome your comments and input. Please visit my website at www.harsdorfsenate.com or call my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745.