When I first saw Richard Foster's column in the Sunday paper, my liberal knee reflexively jerked. So, the Journal Sentinel was running a column supporting its anti-recall campaign from a proclaimed liberal who used to write editorials for them. What a surprise.
Usually, that's when I haul out my snarky anti-Journal Sentinel wisecracks; remind people that the paper endorsed Scott Walker for governor and has been covering for him ever since; pile on about how it's just like them to sneak behind supposed liberal skirts to hide the true Republican nature of their pro-Walker-by-default position; reminisce blissfully about the glory days of the Milwaukee Journal, when the newspaper took on issues great and small with grace and competitive writers, and Doonesbury ran in the Green Sheet and in color on Sunday...
All true -- but, not this time. I want to give the ideas in Foster's column the respect they deserve, because the piece is an excellent expression of a sentiment us recall supporters will have to find a way to address. I have a very dear friend who feels the same way. Sure, we have a million signatures on our petitions. But how do we reach the legitimate middle, who hates what Walker and the Republicans are doing and have done, but figure the whole thing is the product of a legitimate election in 2010 that we lost -- badly? The side that loses the election is stuck with the results until next time, aren't they?
This is not an easy one to answer, but it can be done. The answer lies in the radicalism of the Republicans in Madison; their drastic restructuring of state government; the seizure of control away from local governments; the dictatorial process used by ramming legislation through without a quorum, in the middle of the night, without regard to the rights of the minority (and, as we now know, with signed secrecy pacts to protect their illegal deliberations); Republicans taking their marching orders from right-wing think-tanks in Washington, rather than from their own Wisconsin hearts. And, yes, the deliberate destruction of the historic and positive collective bargaining relationship between public employees and their employers.
We can't assume that everyone "gets it", this need for recall that has been so obvious to the rest of us since Walker, in his words, "dropped the bomb" exactly one year ago. We have to make the case to those who should be with us -- to those who hate what the Republicans have done and are doing almost as much as we do but are not convinced a lost election allows a re-do. What I hope they come to understand is that the recall movement is not an attempt at a re-do. We need to convince some that the recalls are a legitimate response to the radical actions of legislators and a governor with an extreme agenda, the likes of which this state has never seen.
As much as I respect his overall concerns, Foster is off on at least one point. The standard for recall under the Wisconsin constitution isn't anywhere near the "high crimes and misdemeanors" required to remove a president under the U.S. Constitution, and it shouldn't be. Leaving aside for a moment that we may well get there with Walker, as the vultures circle the political operation he at least condoned in his county executive office, there are no such notorious prerequisites for recall under the Wisconsin Constitution. The only thing required is one-fourth of the number voting in the last election to sign petitions indicating they want one. Foster is right that recall should be "an extraordinarily rare and grave step". But he's wrong when he writes "You don't remove an officeholder before an election simply because you disagree with his or her official acts." Well, you can and you do. It depends on the "acts". Just ask Tom Ament.
In a way, Scott Walker is just the figurehead for a perfect storm that has led to disastrously bad governance. He wouldn't be in the political predicament he is now if both houses of the legislature hadn't also flipped from Democratic control to an obedient cadre of similarly bought and schooled radical Republicans who were willing to rubber-stamp his drafted-in-Washington agenda. Even with control of both houses of the legislature and the governor, the Republicans could have driven a moderately right-wing agenda without running roughshod over the loyal opposition like they were irrelevant gnats.
You'd expect them to do stupid things like concealed-carry, Photo ID, giving tax breaks to the rich, raising taxes on the poor, making it harder for regular people to sue the GOP's giant corporate constituents and try to make it easier for mining companies to dig 4-mile wide holes by weakening our historic environmental protections. I mean -- they're Republicans -- bad government is what they are paid to be there for. But it's quite another thing to ramrod the most radical versions of all of that, plus everything in the right-wing handbook, as if Wisconsin were some kind of Laboratory for Bad Nut-Right Ideas. Which is just how the right-wing Washington think-tanks thinks of us.
I was just thinking today when I was reading about the outrageous GOP secrecy agreements Republicans were required to sign to hide the true intentions of their hyper-political redistricting map -- Who ARE these people?? More to the point, who do they THINK they are? Really -- trying to make a meeting of the legislature protected by attorney-client privilege? It's one thing to have control of the entire Capitol building -- it is quite another to swing that power like a bludgeon, without regard for or compromise with a large and legitimate minority in the legislature and an outraged majority in the rest of the state.
And then there is the end of local control on what have always been local issues. Walker could have just taken collective bargaining rights away from state employees outright -- he alluded to doing that between the election and his inauguration. But he did so much more than that. He took away local control from every local unit of government -- including school boards -- by dictating that they can no longer engage in meaningful collective bargaining with their employees (the remaining "right" to bargain wages only, up to the rate of inflation, is a joke) or allow their employees to have union dues deducted from their paychecks like the United Way, even if they ask for it. Threatening the cut-off of state funding if they don't comply, the Heavy Hand of the State now limits the ability of schools to run referendums even if, as a community, the voters want to fund their schools better.
This goes far beyond what he had to do to get the health insurance and pension contributions he dictated. All Walker and the Republicans had to do is pass a law saying that pension and health insurance contributions were no longer subjects of collective bargaining for public employees. There would have been a lot of noise, sure. But what they did instead is use the desired health and pension changes as an excuse to destroy organizations that have done nothing but promote labor peace within public employment sector for the past 50 years, and their mostly positive relationship with the school boards and public employers they bargained with. The only reason for this was to advance the national right-wing agenda to destroy public labor unions. The decimation of the public unions does nothing to solve any fiscal problem -- it is all about power and destroying a perceived enemy of the Republican agenda. Like so many of the actions of the radical Republicans in Madison, it had nothing to do with finances or good government and everything to do with a mad power grab.
As Wisconsin citizens, we don't have to put up with that kind of radical, unchecked governance for four years. The recall process gives us the option, if we can meet the heavy burden of gathering 540,000 some-odd signatures (better -- we doubled it), we have the right -- no, the responsibility -- to try to stop the bleeding. Some of what the Republicans are doing in Madison could have been predicted but so much of the worst stuff could not. The first recalls last year have already served to moderate the Republican onslaught by carving the Republican margin in the Senate to one vote and making the senators now facing recall to think twice before rubber-stamping the rest of the right-wing agenda (see the hesitance of the Senate to approve the Assembly's attack on the environment in the mining bill). In this year's recalls, the Senate will almost certainly flip -- and then the radical Republican revolution is over, whether Walker prevails or not.
This is the way it should work, I think. The Madison Republicans have definitely gone too far in too many areas, and now Walker, Kleefish and the 4 senators will have to face the public in a recall election they brought on themselves. Richard Foster and my good friend may continue to think that, as an electorate, we get what we deserve for what we let happen in 2010. Elections have consequences, sure; but so do radical actions taken after the election. I hope they and others come to believe that the extreme nature of the Republican agenda calls for an extreme remedy -- RECALL.
At least Foster admits that he's not going to go into the recall polling booth, hold his nose, and vote for Walker to survive, just on the general principle that there shouldn't be a recall in the first place. He says he'll probably vote to recall him, if it comes to that -- and I think my friend will do that too. We'll appreciate and count their votes. But we really need their support.
Hey, we might even be doing Walker a favor. If, with the ten of millions of dollars of out-of-state money he is going to be able to spend to lie his way out of this, he survives, the ridiculous Rebecca Kleefish almost certainly will not. Sure, he'll have to deal with a Democrat as lieutenant governor, but at least he'll be rid of that albatross around his neck. Maybe he'll even thank us later.