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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Side Effects of the Recall

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People who don't want to come right out and say they support a corrupt government sometimes claim they oppose the recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as some kind of horrible violation of the electoral process.

Walker and Republican majorities in the Legislature were elected in the tea-party-dominated elections of 2010 and the next regularly scheduled gubernatorial election isn't until 2014, the way God intended, they say.

What the argument leaves out, of course, is that the same human beings who set gubernatorial elections every four years also set up the recall process allowing citizens to remove any governor after one year who does enormous damage to the state.

The cure for a mistake in a democracy is more democracy. Close to a million Wisconsin citizens eagerly signed petitions to stop further destruction of their state.

Signing such a petition is an act of citizenship. It doesn't call into question whether those people can perform their jobs, whether they work in the judiciary, the media or any other occupation.

Everyone in a democracy has the right to participate in deciding who should have political power over his or her life. And the good news is the positive side effects of the recall already have begun.

Already it has pushed the openly corrupt Wisconsin Supreme Court to be more honest and, imagine, respectful of the law.

Three of the four Republican majority justices have been charged with ethics violations. All four regularly upheld anything passed by the Republican Legislature. One of their decisions even said Republican legislators didn't have to obey the law, but could make up their own rules.

When Walker passed a brazenly biased photo ID voting law selectively disenfranchising people of color, the elderly and students, who are more likely to vote Democratic, most people thought court Republicans would uphold the law as quickly as possible.

But a funny thing happened on the way to trashing voting rights. Two separate lower courts issued injunctions blocking the law. And, instead of stepping in to immediately overrule the constitutional objections, the state Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

Now two separate appeals courts, more likely than Supreme Court Republicans to follow the state constitution, will issue their rulings before the case goes to the high court.

Suddenly, a slam-dunk Republican effort to disenfranchise an estimated 220,000 voters in Wisconsin looks far less likely to succeed.

If the Supreme Court has to overrule not just two constitutionally grounded legal decisions striking down one of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation, but four such court rulings, will all four Republican justices—who also have to face voters in the age of recall—dare to ignore the constitution?

Power of the People

Fear of removal from office is the only real control ordinary voters have over their elected public officials. Millionaires and billionaires can simply buy what they want from officeholders, and regularly do.

We saw the fear of recall work in the last legislative session. Walker's highest priority was to pass a law rewriting environmental protections and the permit process to allow open-pit strip mining in northern Wisconsin.

For why the mining bill was such a high priority, see the previous statement about how millionaires and billionaires get what they want from politicians.

The bill was a perfect example of the corrupt process Walker and extremist Republican legislators gleefully pursued in their first year to destroy decades of bipartisan Wisconsin values.

Although Republicans made exaggerated claims about how many jobs open-pit strip mining would produce for the area, legislative leaders intentionally scheduled the only public hearing on the bill in Milwaukee, hundreds of miles away from the residents who would presumably benefit.

The bill, gutting environmental protections and oversight, reportedly was written in secret by the multimillion-dollar mining company it was supposed to regulate. The remote hearing was to make it harder for area residents directly affected to raise objections.

Amazingly, the power of the people killed the bill, trumping Walker and the mining money.

Walker's anti-democratic politics crashed and burned. He claimed he needed to gut state education and local government services to close a large budget deficit and create jobs.

But former Gov. Jim Doyle closed a budget deficit twice as large as Walker's without those enormous cuts to the state's highest priorities. And under Doyle, state jobs were increasing again coming out of the recession.

Then Walker took over. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to wealthy corporate donors, claiming jobs would flourish. They didn't. Under Walker, Wisconsin ranks near the bottom nationally in job creation.

Decent people in Wisconsin, Democrat and Republican, approve of neither the end nor the means. They embrace democracy and compromise serving the interests of everyone. Walker and tea party Republicans refuse to compromise and are hell-bent on crushing anyone who disagrees.

That's why the people already have begun taking back their democracy.

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