EDITORIAL: Trust the people with the power

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Donít surrender your rights in order to please politicians.

LETíS STATE THE OBVIOUS: Wisconsin citizens got carried away in exercising their recall rights over the past 18 months or so.

Then letís put it in perspective. The recall process had been used very sparingly over all the decades it has been an option for citizens. Why? Because itís already cumbersome and poses a very tall challenge for anyone wishing to remove a sitting public official.

Yes, the volume of recall efforts mounted over those recent months was unprecedented.

But, also unprecedented, was the roiling polarization that rocked Wisconsin then, and now ó with studies showing this to be the most politically divided state in America.

FOR THOSE REASONS and more we oppose legislative efforts to restrict the peopleís right to recall elected officials. Rights, once gone, rarely return, so we urge people who advocate change to be careful what they wish for.

Last session the Assembly approved a measure to restrict recalls for federal and state officials to instances in which they faced charges of criminal conduct or unethical behavior. The plan ó which would have required changing the Wisconsin Constitution ó stalled in the Senate. The Republican majority ó whose members largely were targeted in the recalls ó appears poised to try again.

Additionally, a bill has been introduced to restrict recalls against local officials to instances of criminal or unethical conduct. Unlike recalls against federal or state office-holders, recall rules involving local officials can be changed by legislative action without needing a constitutional amendment.

Sponsor Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls (who survived a recall herself in 2011), told the Wisconsin State Journal her bill ďis intended to recognize that there is a place for recalls in the event that there are criminal violations or a violation of a code of ethics. It is a very dangerous road to go down to allow recalls when thereís a disagreement on an issue. You donít want to discourage elected officials from making those tough decisions.Ē

ACTUALLY, WE THINK itís a more dangerous road to go down to allow the political class ó stung recently by recalls ó to define what is or is not acceptable ó ó to them ó in the exercise of citizensí constitutional rights.

If a given official makes choices that upset a sufficient number of people, we think those people ought to have the option to fire that official.

The counter argument, of course, is that voters can fire an official ó at the next regularly scheduled election.

We donít buy it. That election could be two, four or more years away. Thatís a long time to live with a mistake. Itís often said government ought to operate more like a business. Name a business that would keep a manager for years after concluding the wrong person had been hired.

And name a business that would allow the employee to define what is or is not a firing offense.

THIS LEGISLATIVE EFFORT is an overreaction to an overreaction. More than a million petition-signers were enraged by the actions of Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican majority in the legislature, so they went wild with the recall option. In the end, what they discovered was that even more people were either approving of Walkerís actions, or just were not ready to change horses. All Walkerís opponents got for their trouble was an empty wallet and diminished political prospects.

Such a chastening makes it highly unlikely recall fever will seize Wisconsin again anytime soon.

So, arguably, the system worked. Officials acted. Citizens exercised their constitutional rights. Voters decided. Wisconsin moved on.

Legislators should move on, too, without trying to limit citizensí rights or dictate when those rights may be exercised, and for what purpose.

Weíd rather trust the people, any day, than the politicians.

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