Why the Wisconsin recall sets a bad precedent

If the Walker recall succeeds, it will energize efforts elsewhere — and create an incentive for a partisan tit for tat response. That’s no small problem given how dysfunctional our politics already are. At the state level, recalls require organization and money. So although they were initially enacted by progressive reformers, today recalls are more a tool for special interest groups that can muster the resources to pull one off. And although the Wisconsin election is focusing attention on unions, in practice other interest groups can play this game as well. If you think our politicians are paralyzed by special interests and lack courage to take on the big problems facing the country now, imagine their timidity when they start paying attention to the threat of real-time responses to any controversial actions they take.

Nor are recalls a panacea. In a fit of pique, California voters recalled Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. They got Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at this point seems as likely to be remembered for the drama of his personal life as for putting a dent in California’s many problems. At the local level, recall campaigns can start as soon as the election (or the last recall) ends, consuming time, money and, most importantly, the attention of those who are supposed to be governing.

Elected officials who violate the law or otherwise abuse their office should obviously be removed by recall or impeachment. But that’s not the issue in Wisconsin.