Yesterday, I followed up with an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, making my case in more abbreviated form:
Recall supporters defended the sudden use of recalls as simply part of the democratic process. "The exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right to force a recall election is a just and proper tool to force accountability upon those elected officials who act as if there is none," explained the Democratic Party of Wisconsin's website. But a review of documents and press accounts from the time the recall constitutional amendment passed shows that the current use of the recall is far different from what the original drafters had envisioned.
For instance, it was never expected that the recall would apply to governors. When the recall amendment passed in 1926, all state officials except state senators had two-year terms. For the same reason, current two-year term Assembly representatives are not the subject of recall attempts; it wouldn't have made sense to hold a recall election against a governor in May when he was up for election in November.
In an Oct. 31, 1926, Wisconsin State Journal editorial, former Supreme Court Justice Burr W. Jones explained, "It would be impractical, therefore, and even absurd in some cases, to apply the recall plan to short-term officers . . . it must be apparent that the amendment is aimed at those officers who hold for longer terms. These are our judicial officers - our judges. The amendment would in practice affect few others."
Terms for governors, lieutenant governors, attorneys general and other offices weren't extended to four years until 1967, when voters amended the state constitution, thereby making those offices plausibly eligible for recalls. Yet in 1967, there was no public recognition or discussion that those offices now could be recalled; the process was never used, and there is no evidence it was included in the debate.
Furthermore, at the time the recall amendment was adopted, supporters believed the threat of recall would keep elected officials representative of the people. As the argument went, officials would be more responsive to the public than to special interests if their constituents could pull them out of office for corruption. Numerous progressives argued that recalls would aid in keeping the influence of money out of politics.
The recent rounds of recall elections have demonstrated this argument to be the exact opposite of what eventually happened. Moneyed interests are now able, through spending and technology, to force a recall election of any elected official they wish for virtually any reason they deem acceptable. The recall elections have generated significant political spending by both sides.
It could be argued that elected officials have become less answerable to their constituents; they are increasingly dependent on groups that can use Facebook, Twitter and Excel databases to threaten and cajole them into supporting their ideological agendas.
Of course, it doesn't matter what the original drafters had intended; the recall is on and happening in Wisconsin this year. But given how distorted the use of the recall has become, some voters might start to realize that its modern-day use is actually exacerbating the problem, not solving it.