Legislation to reform the recall process for local elected officials in Wisconsin is being offered by a Republican who believes such efforts have gotten out of hand. “I think recalls are undermining responsible government,” said Forest Junction Republican, Representative Al Ott. “I’m not saying some of them aren’t warranted, by there is the election cycle.”
Right now local elected officials – just like state constitutional officers – can be targeted for recall for any reason. The bill from Ott would require that they be charged with a crime, or a violation of ethics laws. Ott said it’s in response to a growing pattern of unwarranted recalls. “One of the things that I think is happening over time, with this flippant use of recall, if you will, is really eroding the ability to get people in office.”
Testimony in favor of the bill centered on the costs of special elections for local governments – and the costs of divisiveness which can linger for years. Steven Dickenson, a former teacher in the Osseo-Fairchild schools recalled the impact recalls surrounding the Indian mascot issue had on the schools. “How do you separate yourself from that when the children that come to school are there fighting in the classroom over the issue? It has effects yet today that it’s difficult for folks to talk to one another in that community.”
“There’s a divisiveness in the community,” said Rick Stadelman, executive director with the Wisconsin Towns Association. “These are policy issues are policy issues. Elections raise issues, too. But it’s every two years, it’s part of the political process. But in this case, because it’s typically based on one issue that somebody’s for or against, it’s very divisive.”
Ott’s bill received a public hearing before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections. This the third time he’s proposed the bill – the first two attempts came well before the controversial statewide recalls against the governor and Republican state Senators. Ott’s legislation (AB 128) does not change the number of signatures required on a recall petition – which is currently set at is 25% of the number of people who voted in the most recent election for governor, within the electoral district of the official being targeted for recall.