Sunday, September 25, 2011

Journal Sentinel still wrong on the issue of recalls

Recall elections should be based on the people's desire to have one

When a representative fails to adhere to the values or ideals of their constituents, they no longer serve a productive purpose within the office they hold. The interests of the people fail to be represented, are essentially ignored for the remainder of that person's tenure.

Some have contended that recalls should be limited, should only be initiated after a legislator, mayor, etc. acts in a criminal or disrespectful way within that office. But should constituents have to wait for this person to "slip up," for them to make a personal judgment error, in order to remove them from office? Isn't this person's refusal to represent the people in a way they deem acceptable reason enough to warrant removal?

It makes no sense to advocate for a change in the recall process that makes it MORE difficult for the people to be respected by their lawmakers. The threat of recall makes officeholders more receptive to their constituents' wishes and less likely to perform a "bait and switch" from campaign season to the actual time they begin public service.

Being receptive is, after all, the entire point of representative democracy. And while legislators shouldn't be bound to support everything that their voters desire, shouldn't continously poll the people they work for on every single issue, they should be held to account for the choices they make that their residents disagree with.

It's irresponsible for lawmakers to be introducing proposals to limit this democratic right of the people; it's even more irresponsible for news media, which serves as a purveyor of democratic discourse in the community, to urge for the elimination of that right as well.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has previously advocated that recalls be limited to instances of "egregious behavior." Now, with Rep. Robin Vos (and others) pushing for a constitutional amendment limiting when and how the people can initiate a recall, the Journal Sentinel editorial team has endorsed the plan.

"The recalls were unwarranted," they wrote. "A vote or stance on one issue is not sufficient in our view to justify the expense of a recall election."

But how is that beneficial to democracy? The purpose of having representatives in office is to have an individual who reflects the values and views of the community at-large. It's impossible to have that individual reflect the views of everyone; but while that's an unachievable goal, a more realistic possibility is having a majority of people lose faith in your ability to represent them, whether that's through your actions or your votes.

Politicians aren't elected on the basis of whether we believe they will act nobly -- it's expected that they will, but that isn't the crux of their campaign rhetoric, what will get them the endorsement of their constituents. Rather, politicians are elected based upon what policies they will support, what positions they will take on hot-button issues, and in what direction they plan to move their district. These are what matter most to constituents. As such, our leaders should be held accountable for the votes they make or the positions they take after they enter office.

The Journal Sentinel has been wrong on this issue before, and it's still wrong for endorsing Vos's plan. The right of the people to select their representatives in the first place is based on the right to have someone share their voice in the office they serve. When that voice of the people is ignored in an extraordinary way, that lawmaker no longer respects his role as "representative."

For that reason, recall elections, as they exist in their current form, should remain preserved.

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