Monday, June 25, 2012

From incongruity to incompatibility

By Bill Kraus

In 1914, when the La Follette movement was at full strength, the voters rejected his attempt to limit the powers of those elected as representatives by adopting initiative and referendum and no-fault recalls.

This was before California showed the world that populism enhances instead of diminishing the power of the special interests La Follette opposed, especially special interests with money.


Ten years later the La Follette movement was well established, but La Follette’s life was over. The La Follette adherents decided to revive the no-fault recall to deter the opponents of the man and his ideas from reversing what La Follette, with the considerable help of Governor Francis McGovern, had wrought. They added the previously rejected no-fault recall provision to the Constitution to do this. Whether this was unnecessary or worked as intended is hard to determine.

In the long interim leading up to the frenetic last 18 months there were periodic attempts to add things like initiative and referendum and TABOR to the Wisconsin mix which went nowhere. One recall vote only claimed George Petak in all that time.

A recall embellishment was added late in 1987, however, at the behest of then-Senator Gary George. His proposal improved the chances of recalled incumbents by taking the lid off their ability to raise money as, if, and when threatened. Its passage did Senator George no good when he was recalled for malfeasance, but led to an excess of spending when recall mania reached fever pitch recently.

In 2012 the voters got another chance to have a say on the recalls. Spin doctors of the right and left to the contrary notwithstanding, the voters said what the voters of 1914 had said: no thanks.

Rather than reforming the too facile recall provision implanted in 1924 and closing the accompanying fundraising loophole, the partisans seem to have dug trenches again and paralysis is setting in.

The incongruousness is that the Democrats are rallying around Republican La Follette’s populist idea, and the Republicans seem to be bent on retaining Democrat George’s incumbents’ spending loophole.

Go figger.

My own view is that the attention of both camps should be on restoring and repairing the representative government that the founding fathers envisioned when they put their remarkable Constitution together.

Representative government is clearly subject to distortions by rabid causists and big money.

Initiative and referendum and no-fault recall do not deal with those threats; they exacerbate them.

What representative government needs is more citizen participation in the process of recruiting and electing superior people to be our representatives, and helping them deal with the increasingly complex and confounding problems that confront our government, our society, our way of life.

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

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