The right to recall and, in Wisconsin, the wrong

More than a million Wisconsinites signed a petition circulated by Democrats to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker. Or, perhaps several folks signed the recall hundreds of thousands of times.

It is very likely the former, though one Milwaukee man claimed to have slapped his John Hancock on the petition 80 separate times. Either way, those  signatures hit the in-baskets of state election officials this week . . . to much fanfare.

We’ll know their validity in the next month as officials check the signatures. Some duplication will show up, along with perhaps more than the usual number of gag signatures — names like Mickey Mouse or Hitler or Robert La Follette or something. Besides, Wisconsin’s rules are far more lax than most states’: any resident — registered to vote or not — may sign.

On the other hand, that’s apparently tougher than the prerequisite to actually cast a vote in the Badger State’s elections, where Illinois residents have been noticed driving north to help those cheese-heads make up their minds.

Still, the recall organizers have turned in over a million signatures to qualify for a 540,208 requirement. Those irregularities would have to be extra irregular for the recall not to qualify. Count on an election, probably in June.

Some states hold an up-or-down contest with just the office-holder being recalled on the ballot. But Wisconsin will set a new election for the office, with a likely primary to choose the Democrat, first, and then the general election with Gov. Walker against the Democrat, and any third party or independent candidates.

I’m a big fan of the power to recall politicians. It’s the most advanced form of “throw-the-bums-out democracy.” Not only did I personally work on the recall of the mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, back in 2010, I wholeheartedly cheered on California’s celebrated Gray Davis recall (in this column and elsewhere).

I think recall is used far too infrequently. Not too often. Only twice in the union’s history have governors been successfully recalled: California’s Gray Davis (2003) and North Dakota’s Lynn Frazier (1921). Both deserved it.

Yet, while I applaud the recall as a good process and, in fact, a fundamental right of citizens, I also hope the people of the Badger Nation vote to keep their gutsy governor.

The state’s labor unions are angry at Walker. Mighty angry. The embattled Walker argues, “I think it’s more about power — because let’s remember, the real reason the unions nationally are involved in this isn’t because of pensions or health care contributions or workers’ rights or anything else. The real reason is because we also, as part of our reforms, gave every worker in our state the right to choose whether or not he or she wants to be part of a union, and no longer have their dues forcibly removed from their payroll.”

Public employee unions aren’t going to support any of those changes, but each and every one is a good idea, long overdue.

And the governor’s reforms appear to be already working. He has saved overburdened taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, a report recently released by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators shows that districts across the state are today financially more secure, haven’t had to make the layoffs they were facing without the reforms and have actually been able to hire more teachers.

Still, there’s another issue concerning the recall.

“Interestingly enough,” Gov. Walker points out, “normally you have a recall about someone who breaks their promises. We kept all of our promises and yet you’ve got a core group that are just sore about that.”

The right to recall is essential, but to recall Gov. Walker wouldn’t be right.