Municipal and school officials could be recalled from office only if they have been charged with a crime or ethics violation, under a sweeping elections bill quickly moving through the state Assembly. Under other provisions of the bill by Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), new limits would be enacted on when people can vote in clerks’ offices before an election, ballots could more easily be thrown out and restrictions would be eased on when lobbyists can give campaign donations to legislators and the governor. The bill wouldn’t affect state and county elected officials, who can be recalled for any reason under the Wisconsin constitution. As a result, the proposal would not have prevented the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker last year or the attempted recall of Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament after the pension scandal in 2002.
Other lawmakers are pursuing an amendment to the state constitution that would make it tougher to recall state and county officials.
Stone’s fast-moving measure also would make changes to the state’s stalled voter ID law in an effort to help it overcome legal challenges. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday and the Assembly could vote on the bill in June, said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).
Stone’s bill would mean local officials could not be recalled if they were suspected of inappropriate behavior that fell short of a crime.
For instance, Bob Ryan — who was recalled last year as Sheboygan mayor after drunken incidents and a sexual harassment complaint — would not have been eligible for recall if the bill’s provisions were in place because he hadn’t been charged with a crime at the time. Two months after he was recalled, he was charged with groping a woman’s breasts during one of the incidents that prompted the recall effort; he was later found guilty of two counts of disorderly conduct.
If a pension scandal like Milwaukee County’s erupted at the municipal or school level, those officials could not be recalled under the terms of the bill.
Chris Kliesmet — who as administrator executive of Citizens for Responsible Government helped organize recall drives against Ament and county supervisors in 2002 — said the proposed change would take power away from voters.
“If you hired a plumber to fix a leaky sink and you came home and your basement was filled with water, would you wait until the next regularly scheduled election to fire your plumber?” he said.