Ten Things You Didn't Know About Wisconsin's Right to Recall

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To listen to Scott Walker ands his rightwing subterfuge, you'd think that the recall was some sort of loophole discovered by Democrats to kick him out of office.  Here are ten things to keep in mind whenever you hear this nonsense:

  • Recalls are widely recognized as one of three forms of “direct democracy”-- the other two being referendums and initiatives.
  • Recalls have been around for a very long time: Recalls can be traced all the way back to the first democracy in Athens and, in the United States, it first came into usage more than 350 years ago during colonial days. In fact, recalls were included in the Articles of Confederation and supported by Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison and many other founders for inclusion in the U.S. Constitution.
  • The first recall effort in the United States came over a hundred years ago and was nicknamed “The Grand Bounce” and was to remove politicians that were only responsive to the wishes of the railroads and other monied interests.

  • Following “The Grand Bounce” a majority of states enacted some form of the recall and Teddy Roosevelt included recalls in his 1912 Presidential campaign.

  • Most states, (including Wisconsin), don't require a reason or "trigger" to begin the recall process and the states that do have one usually include vague terms such as “incompetence” that could include anyone.

  • Most states, (including Wisconsin) have a requirement that a certain percentage of the public sign a petition within a certain time frame.  Of all the states that have a recall, Wisconsin has arguably the toughest-- 25% of the electorate in only 60 days.  Only Kansas Kansas has higher petition signature requirement (40%), but they also get a month longer that Wisconsin to collect the signatures.
  • Wisconsin adopted the recall in 1926 at a time when the governor had only a two year term. It was until 1970 that Wisconsin would change the constitition to double the governors term to four years. At the time of the constitutional amendment proponents of doubling the governors term, argued that because of the recall that if constituents were unhappy, they could always recall the governor and not wait around for the whole four year term. In other words, if Walker had been elected under the original guidelines of the pre-1970 Wisconsin constitution, he would be up for re-election next year and there really wouldn't be a need for a recall election in the early summer, when Walker's term would be face a regular re-election in the fall. (As an aside-- the original drafters of the Wisconsin constitution considered having a term of one year for the governor considered having a one year term, saying it was “a generally admitted fact, that the shorter the term of office, the more the official would feel his responsibility to the people” and that “if the public sentiment which elected him should change in the course of the year should change in the course of the year, he ought not to be re-elected.")

  • Framers of Wisconsin's recall intended it to not to just be a law but a "right" and, in fact,  Wisconsin's recall amendment contains “hands-off” language to prevent tampering by future legislatures, sayin “no law may be to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall.”

  • At the beginning of the "2011 recalls," it was Republicans, not Democrats, that first filed paperwork to recall most of the 14 Democratic state senators that left the state as a filibuster-like tactic to delay voting on union-busting legislation. 

  • Although Governor Walker now claims recall should only be used for “misconduct” in office, back in 1997, he supported recalling Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold for the way on an abortion issue.  Regardless of Gov. Walker thinks now, Wisconsin's recall law has always been a right of the public to pull the plug on a public servant that is no longer listening to the public.