Sunday, October 16, 2011

Protests and recalls

By Bill Kraus

Protests are a fixture in banana republics everywhere, the mideast more or less continuously, and parts of Europe and Africa more recently.

Wisconsin had a notable one this year, and now Wall Street and bankers everywhere have taken center stage as targets of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Protests are usually rooted in frustration and anger. They are spawned by organizations or collections of people who are not getting attention, action, or are simply being brushed off by those with power, because those with power have different agendas and priorities or are simply indifferent to the causes or needs of those without power.

Protests worked in a big way on Vietnam and civil rights. The draft was ended (which was probably necessary at the time and may or may not have been a good idea) as a response to the Vietnam War protests, and the giant step forward of civil rights in the 60s is unimaginable without the widespread protests of that era.

The 2011 Wisconsin protest was about radical legislation and action by a new governor and legislature. It was about more than union busting or claimed to be, but the attempt to perpetuate it seems to be more and more about the deprivation of the bargaining rights of public employees.

The more recent Wall Street protest seems to be more about getting revenge on the moneybags who seem to have gotten away with screwing up the economy without hurting their own fiscal well being. Lots of issues being aired, like the income gap, and the arrogance of the money shufflers who think they are, not servants of, the economy.

Maybe this will amount to something, but it seems a lot less focused than its successful national predecessors. More a grievance session than a call for specific action.

Recalls taken to their logical conclusion could result in effectively reducing the terms of those elected to office to one year irrespective of the terms of the office they were elected to.

An already too timid, less daring collection of legislators whose main interest is often being re-elected will spend a lot of time looking over their shoulders to see if they have offended their donors, any third party zealots, any organizations to whom they are beholden for votes and/or money, and even the voters themselves.

The threat of being taken to the recall woodshed for any real or imagined failures to conform to the expectations of any or all of the above can not help but escalate their already serious case of hardening of the legislative arteries to a state of paralysis.

Another undesirable side effect of recallitis is voter fatigue. The voters who already don’t vote in admirable numbers in general elections, and are notable for their indifference to and absence from the increasingly important primary elections, are already saying “not again” to the prospect of a series of recalls after the November “fire when ready” date passes.

The answer to my question, then, is no, this is not a good way to run a country.

The better response to misbehavior in office short of the the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors which could legitimately call for a recall or an impeachment is to find a candidate to run against the miscreants who deserve to be ousted.

This challenge would be mounted at the regularly scheduled next election.

And, of course, in the wake of several decades of careful gerrymandering, most of the candidates recruited for these challenges will have to be members of the same party as those who are targeted for replacement if they are to have any chance of success.

If the replacements are as good as hoped, they may even do something about un-gerrymandering so the general election voters can get into the game at the time they are most likely to bestir themselves enough to get proper identification together and actually go to the polls.

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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