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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Politics | 3 comments

The Stakes in the Walker Recall

WASHINGTON — Recalls and impeachments are a remedy of last resort. Most of the time, voters who don’t like an incumbent choose to live with the offending politician until the next election, on the sensible theory that fixed terms of office and regular elections are adequate checks on abuses of power and extreme policies.

The question facing Wisconsin’s citizens is whether Gov. Scott Walker engaged in such extraordinary behavior that setting aside his election is both justified and necessary.

Voters don’t have to get to this large question. Walker’s opponents forced next Tuesday’s recall vote by using the state’s laws in an entirely legitimate way. They gathered far more petition signatures than they needed, signaling that discontent in the state was widespread.

The result has been a fairly conventional campaign in which Republican Walker once again confronts his 2010 Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. At this point, preferring Barrett, an affable moderate liberal, to the conservative firebrand Walker is reason enough to vote the incumbent out, but the broader case for recall is important.

Walker is not being challenged because he pursued conservative policies but because Wisconsin has become the most glaring example of a new and genuinely alarming approach to politics on the right. It seeks to use incumbency to alter the rules and tilt the legal and electoral playing field decisively toward the interests of those in power.

The most obvious way of gaming the system is to keep your opponents from voting in the next election. Rigging the electorate is a surefire way of holding on to office. That is exactly what has happened in state after state — Wisconsin is one of them — where GOP legislatures passed new laws on voter identification and registration. They are plainly aimed at making it much more difficult for poorer, younger and minority voters to get or stay on the voter rolls, and to cast ballots when Election Day comes.

Rationalized by claims of extensive voter fraud that are invented out of whole cloth, these measures are discriminatory in their effect and partisan in their purpose. On their own, they are sufficient cause for the electorate to rise up and cry, “Stop!”

But Walker and his allies did more than this in Wisconsin. They also sought to undermine one of the Democratic Party’s main sources of organization. They sharply curtailed collective bargaining by most public employee unions and made it harder for these organizations to maintain themselves over time, notably by requiring an almost endless series of union elections.

The attack on unions was carried out in the name of saving state and local government money. But there is a big difference between, on the one hand, bargaining hard with the unions and demanding more reasonable pension agreements, and, on the other, trying to undercut the labor movement altogether. In the wake of the recession, mayors and governors of both parties have had to demand a lot from their unions. For Democrats, this often involved unions that helped elect them to office.

That is one of the reasons the party is well-represented in the recall by Barrett: He has been a tough negotiator in Milwaukee, to the consternation of some of its public employees. In the Democratic primary, unions spent heavily on behalf Barrett’s main opponent, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. Although labor is now fully behind Barrett, Walker simply cannot cast his opponent as a captive of the movement. No wonder the Republican is closing his campaign with a demagogic ad on crime in Milwaukee. Walker knows he can’t win the last swing votes he needs on the basis of his record and his stand on collective bargaining.

The paradox of Wisconsin is that although recalling a governor would be unusual, Barrett is the candidate of regular order, of consensual politics, Wisconsin-style. Wisconsin has had successful conservative governors before, Republican Tommy Thompson prominent among them. They enacted conservative policies without turning the state upside down. They sought to win over their opponents rather than to inhibit their capacity to oppose.

Walker seems to enjoy a slight advantage in the polls, having vastly outspent his foes up to now. Barrett, however, should have enough money to level the competition in the final days. This recall should not have had to happen. But its root cause was not the orneriness of Walker’s opponents but a polarizing brand of conservative politics that most Americans, including many conservatives, have good reason to reject.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is [email protected] (c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

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Copyright 2012 The Moderate Voice
  • DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist

    it will be very interesting to see who is still standing

  • The_Ohioan

    Voter suppression? Here’s how they do it. A study from the Brennan Center for Justice issued two week prior to the November 2008 election:

    No Match, No Vote – Some states will not register voters or will purge them from the voter rolls if election officials cannot match their voter registration information against information in other government databases. The problem is the computer match processes states use are inherently unreliable. Between 15% and 30% of all match attempts fail because of typos, other administrative errors, and minor discrepancies between database records, such as a maiden name in one record and a married name in another or a hyphen in one record and not another. No match, no vote policies can block hundreds of thousands of voters through no fault of their own.

    Voter Purges – Election officials across the country routinely purge millions of names from the voter rolls. Although purging is necessary to keep the voter rolls up to date and accurate, purges are typically done without notice to affected voters or the public, and without any public scrutiny whatsoever. As a result, thousands of registered voters show up at the polls each election year only to find that they are not on the rolls and cannot cast a ballot that will be counted.

    Voter Challenges – Political operatives sometimes challenge voters’ eligibility either before Election Day or at the polls, based on names culled from unreliable caging lists or other lists they develop.

    Technical Barriers to Voter Registration and Voting – In this election cycle, there has been a resurgence of technical barriers based on the failure to check unnecessary boxes on forms.

    Student Voting Barriers – Across the country, there have been reports of widespread misinformation about student voting rights, misleading and intimidating statements, and registration and residency barriers unique to students. The result is a disproportionate number of student voters being challenged at the polls, discouraged from voting, or prematurely told to cast a provisional ballot.

    Voter Registration Access – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 30% of Americans were not registered to vote in 2006. A range of barriers to voter registration access could affect registration rates in certain communities. Several states have enacted laws that impose unnecessary burdens on organized efforts to register voters. Threats of criminal penalties and crippling civil fines for failure to comply with requirements have forced community groups to stop or substantially cut down on registering voters.

    Veterans – The Department of Veterans’ Affairs denied voter registration access to residents and patients of its facilities, refusing to allow election officials or nonpartisan groups to offer voter registration services, and failing to provide such services itself. A last-minute change in policy offered only a partial fix to this problem.

    Voter Intimidation and Deceptive Practices – In recent elections, robo-phone calls and misleading flyers, often targeting minority and low-income communities, have spread false information regarding elections and voting qualifications.

    Poor Ballot Design – Poorly designed ballots-remember the butterfly ballot?-can lead to the loss of thousands of votes. A recent Brennan Center report demonstrates that ballot design problems are still widespread and have caused thousands of lost votes.

    Election Day Preparedness – Inadequate staffing, poor resource allocation, ballot shortages, and machine malfunctions can to lead to long lines at the polls, or worse, discourage people from voting at all.

  • Rcoutme

    John Kerry lost the election in Ohio due to The_Ohioan’s last point. In the inner cities (very, very Democrat oriented) the waiting lines for getting to the voting machines were hours long. The wait in the suburbs was an average of a few minutes. In Woodward’s book, he mentioned that the Bush team worried that Kerry would contest the election because it was a legitimate grievance. Kerry decided that the country needed to move on.

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