Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hot button bungle

By Bill Kraus

The legislative leaders plan to fast track the not-yet-enacted and may-have-to-be-reenacted proposals on their short agenda makes it a sure thing that all the upcoming replacement and recall elections will be what those already decided have been: a referendum on Governor Walker.

This worked out well only in a couple of Assembly districts that were safely Republican. Not so well for the Republican who hoped to succeed Mike Huebsch.

It was almost catastrophic for the heavily favored Supreme Court Justice David Prosser when he failed to dump the campaign aide who implied that David would be a rubber stamp for the governor. But for the unexplained and unexpected weak support for her in Milwaukee the Supreme Court election would have propelled the virtually unknown Joanne Kloppenburg to a seat on that court.

So what are the mostly moderate Republican senators being recalled to do in the face of these realities?

It is worth mentioning that the more radical members of the Republican state senate caucus are dodging this bullet. When I asked a couple of prominent Democrats why they were targeting the likes of Sheila Harsdorf and Luther Olsen, they said it was because they had cast an “immoderate” vote.

The additional reason to set this dangerous precedent---is one controversial vote in the high crimes and misdemeanors category?---is that they can’t pass up this chance to overturn the Republican majority in the state Senate.

Which brings me back to the “What to do?” question.

The moderates could turn their backs on the agenda that is in play and likely to cause them so much trouble. This activates another set of risks. Even if they were to separate themselves from just the most inflammatory items on the governor’s short agenda, the most rabid hardliners could punish them by simply staying home, not voting.

That leaves changing the subject as the only real campaign option.

All of the recallees have a long history of moderate, popular votes that in normal times would carry them to victory. The voters in their districts who have been electing them for years obviously like and respect them, consider them the kind of people they want to represent them in faraway Madison.

Those are cards worth playing.

They can also weigh in on new ideas and issues that are moderate, unpartisan, popular, and even worthy. Naturally anti-gerrymandering comes to my mind. So does a law that would require full disclosure of the names of the people who are funding the organizations that are increasingly dominating our media-driven campaigns with the kind of TV ads that slandered and diminished both Prosser and Kloppenburg earlier this year.

Others among them may have other ideas that these campaigns could focus on and talk about that are important to them and to all of us and might open up new discourses on new subjects.

In all events no one should expect that having a large number of incumbent moderates fall on their swords for a radical agenda that adds to the unavoidably difficult deficit fixes that their predecessor Democrats swept under the rug is going to work any better for the besieged incumbents who are being recalled than it did for Mike Heubsch’s anointed but unelected successor or for that sure-thing-no-contest favorite Prosser.

Changing the subject seems to me to be a safer course.

This is something for the legislative leaders to think about as well. Rushing these very controversial ideas to the floor and forcing the vulnerable moderate recallees to cast votes that might be postponed on the grounds that this strategy will add fuel to a fire that was hot enough to incite thousands of people to sign recall petitions to set this unprecedented process in action in the first place might not be a good idea.

As I look ahead I am reminded of an Arthur Miller play. Something about a long, hot summer.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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