Four Wisconsin state senators challenged pending recall petitions against them on Feb. 9 in an effort to retain their seats. In light of these recalls and challenges, state lawmakers are proposing changes to the state constitution that would make election recalls more difficult.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Sen. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls), and Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) all believe that they have been wrongfully recalled. On Feb. 15 they released to the Government Accountability Board (GAB) a joint reply in support of the written challenges. In this statement, the senators write that the recall committees are “long on rhetoric and hyperbole and short on analysis of the significant legal issues raised by the Senators.”
Much of this joint reply is dedicated to grievances about recall proceedings. In the first section of the statement, the senators attempt to explain the effects of Act 43, which mandated redistricting of all senate districts in the state as of Aug. 24, 2011. They write that each senator represents the people residing under the districts created by Act 43. They go on to say in the next section, however, that if recall elections are held prior to the general elections on November 24 they must be conducted using the former districts.
In effect, senators want recall petitions to be signed in the new districts, but recall elections to be conducted in the old districts. The senators, in their conclusion, request that the GAB “eliminate all invalid and inadequate signatures from the four petitions. Moreover, the Senators request that GAB evaluate the sufficiency of the petitions in the legislative districts created by Act 43.”
Confusion among recall leaders and signatories may arise as a result of this flip-flopping of redistricting policies.
To complicate matters further, lawmakers are proposing changes to the state constitution that would make petitioning for recalls more difficult. These changes would also crack down on individuals signing petitions more than once. Under the new constitution, elected state officials would have to violate the state ethics code or commit a crime in order to be recalled.
This code of ethics, however, has not yet been determined by legislators. Rep. Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) says that recall petitions would still be possible, yet begs the question: “Why should we have to be under the burden of always looking over our shoulder to determine we are doing the right thing every time we make one vote?”
Proponents of the changes agree that stiff fines should be imposed on those who sign petitions more than once. They also believe that preventing unnecessary recall elections would save the state millions of dollars. Farrow said that recall elections have cost the state approximately $2.1 million over the last year.
Those opposed say that the state could do more to save money during recalls. For example, the GAB could be required to only count up to the number of necessary signatures instead of counting them all. Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) agrees with this point of view. “I don’t spend my time looking over my shoulder at constituents,” Roys said. She goes on to say that legislators should not be concerned about issues only around Election Day, but should have an ongoing dialogue with constituents.
No legislation has been written up or negotiated yet regarding changes to the Wisconsin state constitution. Recall petitions are still being tallied.