Recall elections are important because they give voters an edge in holding public officials accountable for egregious acts. However, I'm nervous about the precedent Wisconsin's recall elections may set for future generations. They should be used sparingly, not as a weapon by a political party to gain control of a legislative body. Doing so can cause a chilling effect on the way public officials vote, and right decisions may take back seat to those that are politically expedient.
That being said, I think there is a real concern with initiating recall elections on the basis of a collective bargaining changes, then changing the rationale when the public grows wearing of rehashing the same debate for nearly a year. We're either recalling Senator Alberta Darling because of her vote on collective bargaining or we're not.
Rep. Sandy Pasch, for instance, has been criticizing Darling for her apparent support of Congressman Paul Ryan's Medicaid and Medicare reforms as a reason to recall her. How can this be interpreted any other way than telling voters they are insufficiently informed to realize what's going on? The recall signatures initially gathered against Darling were on the basis of her collective bargaining vote, now it's apparently on the basis of her support for a federal government program for which Darling has no legislative jurisdiction or influence.
Darling's support of a U.S. Congressman's reforms is both irrelevant and diversionary. Pasch has ignored Darling's vote on collective bargaining because her campaign suspects that Wisconsin voters are no longer interested in that debate. This is strike one for the Pasch campaign because her campaign is attempting to dupe voters into believing that a recall process should be initiated for one reason, but changed when polls shift in a different direction.
Pasch also has a troublesome connection with third-party political group called "Citizen Action of Wisconsin," which apparently had staged a mock funeral outside Darling's campaign office for the Medicaid and Medicare government programs. To be clear, Wisconsin election law forbids candidates for public office to coordinate with third-party interest groups for the purposes of promoting their candidacy. Yet Pasch is a sitting board member of Citizen Action, and the treasurer of Citizen Action is a treasurer for Pasch's campaign.
Pasch says she has not had any contact with Citizen Action concerning political matters since becoming a recall candidate. However, an open records request reveals emails where Citizen Action released talking points about collective bargaining to Pasch's campaign and also encouraged her to shoot a video relating to cuts to Wisconsin Shares child program. In response, Citizen Action said they've done nothing illegal since they hadn't coordinated campaign strategy with the Pasch campaign, but rather dealt only with policy issues.
Even if Pasch had no contact with the group, the kinship between the two is disconcerting. What's more disconcerting is that Citizen Action of Wisconsin is apparently devoting all of its political activism in Darling's Senate district. Why would a political organization with a mission of making Wisconsin a better place to live and work devote all of its recent energy to a single Senate district?
Even more disconcerting is the company of which Pasch is keeping on this Citizen Action's board of directors. One of the board members is Christine Neumann-Ortiz, an immigrant activist physically carried out from a recent Legislative Committee Hearing by State Troopers for refusing to leave. Neumann-Ortiz and others shouted down Legislators as they tried to conduct a Legislative Budget Hearing over expanding school choice, a program providing private school education to the poor.
Making recent news is another liberal third-party political group for offering food and prizes in exchange for votes. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin Jobs Now held several "get out the vote" block parties offering voters free food and prizes - including free shuttles to Milwaukee City Hall to cast absentee ballots in the Darling/Pasch recall election.
Surprisingly, it was learned that Wisconsin Jobs Now is a subsidiary group of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, which means there is definite coordination between the two political groups. Wisconsin Jobs Now says they did not violate State Election Law because they did not require the recipients of food and prizes to vote. But bribes don't require reciprocity; they only require an attempt to persuade or influence a party to act according to a wish or desire. For this reason, a spokesperson for the Government Accountability Board said that free food and transportation to the polls should not be a part of the same event.
To be clear, I am not saying that Sandy Pasch is coordinating with either of these groups. I don't know what is going on behind the scenes; but in my experience, if it looks and quacks like a duck, then it's probably a duck. Stated in another way, it's difficult not to believe that Pasch isn't coordinating with an organization of which she is a sitting board member and which is devoting most of its time in Pasch's recall race. Furthermore, she did not step down as a board member from Citizen Action of Wisconsin. Does it need to be said that being a board member of an organization means you haven't severed all your ties? Pasch's tie to both of these groups is strike two and three.
Pasch's press release knocking Darling for being supportive of Ryan's reform plans is not an appropriate reason to recall a politician. Not a single press release on Pasch's campaign website mentions Darling's vote for the collective bargaining bill, which is surprising. It's surprising because more than dozen of Citizen Action's board members are representatives of unions. Citizen Action is investing a lot of time helping Pasch, but Pasch is devoting no time criticizing Darling on collective bargaining.
This all begs the question, what egregious act did Darling commit to justify a recall? The fact that Pasch has not been able to answer this question adequately should be a concern to any fair-minded voter interested in sorting out who is the better candidate.