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Editorial Roundup: Wisconsin

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. January 11, 2024.

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Editorial: Cheap talk helped fuel ill-considered recall effort

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has done a number of things we don’t particularly agree with. His flirtation with the idea of impeaching one of the state’s supreme court justices on the basis of what he thought she would later do comes to mind. But he doesn’t deserve the attack he’s getting now from supporters of Donald Trump’s bid to return to the White House.

Iola Car Show  Schedule - Old Cars Weekly
Iola Car Show Schedule – Old Cars Weekly

A petition seeking to recall Vos from office is poorly founded and ill-considered. It cites Vos’ decision to support a different Republican candidate in the party’s presidential contest and the fact he didn’t move forward with impeaching Meagan Wolf, Wisconsin’s top elections official, as grounds for the recall.

Both of the justifications are absurd. They are both a demand and a threat: Do precisely what the most extreme members of a party want, or be destroyed.

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Vos’ response is dead on. He said the recall petition is the result of people not being able “to get over any election in which their preferred candidate doesn’t win.” He went on to call it “a waste of time, resources and effort.”

Ironically, the recall effort probably strengthens Vos’ hand in future elections. He faced a strong primary challenge in 2022, defeating Adam Steen by only 260 votes. A new challenger could potentially ride a wave of new grievances to a win.

Remember, though, that one of the critical factors in any election these days is money. Laws control what candidates can raise and when. They also allow elected officials who are targeted by a formal recall effort to immediately begin raising unlimited money.

The recall requires 6,850 signatures from voters in Vos’ district — a figure higher than the total votes cast against him in the 2022 general election. Steen’s write-in votes and those for the Democratic candidate totaled only 5,607 votes. So the chances of Vos’ critics actually being able to move beyond the petition aren’t great. But the fact Vos can now raise campaign cash based on an election he may not even have to contest probably puts him in a much better position to fend off a challenger next time.

We disagree with the attempt to recall Vos for precisely the same reason we disagreed with the impeachments his critics say he should have led. “They didn’t do what I wanted,” is simply not a good enough grounds for removing officials. It’s the politics of nihilism, not a principled stand.

Removing elected officials from office is a very serious step. It should remain reserved for cases in which the official has violated the standards of the law or otherwise failed to uphold their office in serious ways. Including actions that are clearly within the officeholder’s purview on the basis of not liking the decision isn’t good enough.

We hope the current situation serves as a cautionary note to Vos and his colleagues, though. Cheap talk of removal, regardless of whether the person actually plans to go through with the action, encourages the idea that elected officials are disposable, that they can be cast aside as soon as they step on someone’s toes. That’s a dangerous path.

Elected officials need to guard their words better than what we’ve seen over the past several years. Treating actions lightly when they have serious consequences tempts use of weapons best left sheathed.

There’s still no guarantee Vos will win his next election. But, in trying to speed up his removal, his opponents may well have given him a better chance.

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