Why I don’t really mind a gubernatorial recall

We’re having quite a civil war, our state.

The budget repair bill, the Capitol protests, the contentious state Supreme Court race, and legislative recall elections all have served as preliminary skirmishes. Now comes Gettysburg – the potential recall of Gov. Scott Walker.

Although recalls were getting tiresome in July and August, especially because the television advertising had little to do with the root cause – the governor’s successful effort to limit collective bargaining powers for public employees – a gubernatorial recall could be, and should be, different.

Before I get into my reasoning, let me state the following: I voted for Walker because I thought the policies he spelled out during the 2010 campaign would improve the business climate in Wisconsin. While there is always room for improvement – we still need to enact a Wisconsin-centric approach to boosting venture capital deployment – I believe the governor has delivered on that promise.

Walker also promised to get the state’s fiscal house in order, and even though we have more challenges with future budgets, we now have a balanced budget. Here’s the rub: he never told us, while campaigning in 2010, that he would limit collective bargaining in order to get there. That little bomb was dropped a couple of days after the election, after victory had been secured.

Republicans calling for recall reform want malfeasance in office to be the main criterion under which recall elections can be considered. That should certainly be one of them, but what about politicians who promise one thing during a campaign and do just the opposite while in office? Or those who camouflage their real intentions during a campaign and then spring a surprise once the votes are counted?

As much as I appreciate the Governor’s attempts to help job creators, he was guilty of the latter and it was immensely unfair to voters. Had he, during the campaign, explained why he believed that curtailing collective bargaining was the best path to a balanced budget, both at the state and local levels, he would have had a much stronger mandate to proceed.

That is, had he won the election, and that’s the other rub. Most people believe, and Walker must be among them, that he could not have defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett under those circumstances. Given what ensued at the Capitol, and his own declining poll numbers, that’s a reasonable assumption.

A recall election would give us a chance to replay, although maybe not with Walker vs. Barrett, what in retrospect the 2010 campaign should have been about. We will have an opportunity to weigh the benefits of a balanced budget and more taxpayer-friendly property tax bills this December (another Walker promise) versus what I hope will be Walker’s opponent outlining an alternative fiscal path.

I have no problem negotiating with public employees, during a budget crunch, to have them contribute more to their health care and pension benefits, so long as they have the opportunity to recoup what has been lost through collective bargaining when economic conditions improve. Diminishing collective bargaining power removes that possibility.

The changes to collective bargaining were not small beer. The law giving public employees collective bargaining powers had been in effect for more than 50 years, which is why it deserved our attention during the fall campaign.

So by all means, let’s have a recall election. A Walker victory would belatedly validate the Governor’s approach. A defeat would send a message to people in both parties – no post-campaign surprises or you could also be recalled.

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