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Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011

Who Has the Right to Recall Officials?

Democrats say longtime constituents, GOP says new ones

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On Monday, a state Senate committee spent hours debating a proposal that would significantly improve Republicans' chances of rebuffing recall efforts—a proposal that does not appear to have enough votes to pass in the state Senate.

State Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) told reporters that he would not support the bill if it came up for a vote in the state Senate, which has a 17-16 Republican majority.

The Senate Transportation and Elections Committee had been scheduled to vote on the bill on Tuesday, but that has been pushed to Wednesday.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend), would allow new Senate districts to go into effect next week, instead of next November. That would give Republicans a better chance of thwarting recalls, since the new districts favor that party throughout the state.

This summer, Republicans passed the new redistricting maps via legislation that specifically stated that the new districts would go into effect—for regular, special and recall elections—with the general election in November 2012.

Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy told the committee that he had given the district-creators three options for the date of implementation, and the Republicans chose November 2012.

"I pointed out the impact of your decision in August," Kennedy said.

In her testimony, Lazich repeatedly said her proposal was about "fairness" and reducing the "confusion" created by the original Republican-drawn redistricting legislation.

"There's a whole lot of unfairness going on," Lazich said.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) repeatedly asked Lazich why it was "fair" to allow constituents who had never been represented by a senator to vote in a recall election, instead of the constituents who had long been served by that official. He also warned that legal challenges to the new districts could thwart their implementation, and therefore potential recall elections conducted under that map.

"What happens if the new boundaries are unconstitutional?" Erpenbach asked.

"I'm confident they are constitutional," Lazich said.

But Lazich's confidence could be shaken by lawsuits challenging the Republicans' redistricting plan.

In one suit, two former Democratic lawmakers allege that the new maps would disenfranchise 300,000 voters. Voces de la Frontera's federal lawsuit, filed this week, claims that the new districts provide Latino citizens with less opportunity to participate in the political process than other members of the electorate.

Added Confusion

To make matters more confusing, Lazich's bill would create a scenario in which old Assembly districts are in place while new Senate districts would be in effect. Lazich said her bill didn't address Assembly districts because it was unlikely that any state representatives would be recalled next year.

Grothman asserted that the redistricting bill should be passed on Wednesday, saying that the new legislative maps had been "widely publicized" and that everyone knew who their new representatives would be.

In Monday's committee hearing, state Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) argued that it wasn't right to allow new constituents to "recall" a legislator when they hadn't "called" that legislator in the first place.

"Your cure is worse than the cause," Coggs said.

Constitution Forbids Legislature from Restricting Recalls

In a separate bill, Lazich has called for requiring recall petition circulators to submit notarized petitions.

Democrats asserted that Lazich and Grothman's bill changing the date for the implementation of the new district maps would disenfranchise voters and thwart constituents' constitutional right to recall their officials.

The state constitution grants the people of Wisconsin the right to recall their elected officials. While the constitution allows the Legislature to pass laws to facilitate recall elections, it also prohibits lawmakers from enacting laws "to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall."

State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) said that $400,000 of taxpayer money had been paid to the law firms of Michael Best & Friedrich and James Troupis for advising Republicans on the redistricting maps.

"That was the language we paid for," Taylor said of the November 2012 implementation date for all elections, including recall elections.

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