Monday, June 27, 2011

Recalls are not a "problem" for Wisconsin

Movement to discourage "process of the people" misses the point entirely

Originally posted at

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board this week wrote a piece on recall elections in Wisconsin and the toll that they're taking on the citizens of this state.

Titled "The gall of recalls," the article posits that, unless we slow down the tide of threats against one another through electoral recalls, the state will not recover from the political messes that have come about in the past six or seven months.

"At some point," the article states, "after regular elections are held, the will of the people must be respected. They have chosen their leaders, for better or for worse."

It's touching that the State Journal wants to return to normalcy, wants there to be less hostility in our governing process during a tumultuous time for our state. For offering a solution to a perceived problem, the right-leaning (but often level-headed) paper should be given a "kudos" of some kind or some level.

However, to state that the recalls are what's driving our state bonkers ignores the true problems that lie behind their necessity. The State Journal cannot see the forest for the trees; or, to use another metaphor, prescribes a remedy for the symptoms of a virus but not for the cure to the disease itself.

Will Wisconsinites tire of the recalls this state is facing? Having personally spoken to constituents from several targeted communities, I can tell you that a good handful of people are already tired of them. But these same people are also tired of the politics of partisanship, weary of the bullying from the current incarnation of Republican legislators (and from the governor himself, Scott Walker). And yes, some are tired of the Democrats, too, for taking hard blows at the current party in power and taking drastic steps to prevent them from carrying out their "duties."

But the people are also upset with the direction our state is taking. For the most part, the people can't understand how defunding programs for seniors, the cognitively and physically disabled, students from kindergarten to college, and those living well below decent standards of living will help the state in the long run. Making Wisconsin "open for business" is one thing, one goal that most people can get behind; but "closing" it to working families is something the people of this state can't begin to fathom as morally sound.

Which is precisely why we should reject the entire notion of these recalls being based on "just one vote," as the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications and pundits have asserted it being. The people have signed recall petitions for much more than the issue of collective bargaining -- they have signed them based on the character of those who currently serve them, based on the positions senators have taken on education and social program cuts, and on the overall direction our governor and his legislative allies are hoping to take this state in.

The recalls aren't just about union rights -- though those, too, are important -- but they're about preserving the values of Wisconsin itself.

Publications like the State Journal believe that the recall process is too damaging, that the mass call for the ousting of senators will do too much damage to the state overall. I, alongside others in Wisconsin, argue a different point: the recalls don't hurt the levels of civic engagement within Wisconsin, but rather encourage people to become more vigilant in their observations of state politics.

Yes, it can be annoying to have a recall every time a 25 percent voter threshold is met. But it also is a way for the people themselves to have a direct "check" on their representatives. We can argue till we're blue in the face about the merits of recalls, about whether a person's values or votes truly do represent the direction their constituents want Wisconsin to go. But we must never believe that recalls themselves, the process of keeping our state legislators, governors, even judges in line with our values, is in itself "wrong."

The people must have some power left to their disposal, to exercise their control over the government which supposedly represents their interests. Being a part of a democracy doesn't mean simply voting every few years, or even being satisfied with the results of those elections (even when your "side" wins). Being a part of a democracy means doing those things while also holding your representatives accountable for the actions and votes they take part in between electoral seasons.

The process of recall elections, while annoying to some, is one way that the people, not the politicians, remain in power of their own governments. By encouraging readers to scoff at the process, to view it in a cynical fashion, is troublesome for a paper like the Wisconsin State Journal, which usually encourages higher levels of civic engagement and open governance.

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