During the 2004 presidential campaign, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., memorably said, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it” regarding his position on funding the Iraq war. It was a ridiculous attempt to have it both ways — a feat of linguistic contortion presumably intended to win support from both pro-war and anti-war voters — and the Republicans had a field day with it.
Chants of “flip, flop” rang out at that year’s Republican National Convention, and flip-flops with a caricature of Kerry’s face and list of policy reversals were for sale.
The electorate doesn’t have much use for candidates or elected officials who attempt to have it both ways. So we were surprised to see state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, appear to do just that on the subject of recalls earlier this month.
In a June 8 Journal Times report, Vos was asked about rumblings of the possibility of recalling John Lehman, the apparent winner of the June 5 election to recall incumbent state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine. Asked if Lehman should be recalled, Vos said: “I don’t believe in recalling someone just because he is a Democrat.” But at the same time Vos didn’t say he was entirely opposed to a possible recall, such as if Lehman doesn’t represent the wishes of the district or flees the state.
Our concern is that in that same day’s Journal Times, the Opinion page included a commentary co-written by Vos and state Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbottsford, in which Vos and Suder wrote: “It’s time to recall the recalls.”
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“The exit polls from Tuesday’s elections found that 60 percent of voters say recall elections are only appropriate for official misconduct,” Vos and Suder wrote. “It’s completely understandable that there’s voter fatigue. This is the second round of recall elections in a year and voters will go to the polls four times in five months. We need to limit recalls to a malfeasance in office; they should not be used as a political tactic. It’s clearly not the intention of our founders when they put it in our constitution nearly 100 years ago.”
The commentary made reference to Assembly Joint Resolution 63, of which Vos was a co-sponsor, which passed the Assembly in the last session but was not taken up by the Senate. The commentary said it was time to “get legislators on board” and advance the legislation, which would allow recalls only “if the (elective) officer has been charged with a crime punishable by imprisonment of one year or more, or against whom a finding of probable cause of violation of the state code of ethics has been made.”
Here’s our problem: In the commentary, Vos makes reference to “malfeasance in office” as a justification for a recall, and to Joint Resolution 63, which states that recalls are justified only in the event an elected official has been charged with certain crimes, or is the subject of an ethics investigation in which probable cause has been found.
But in the interview, Vos leaves open the possibility of a recall of Lehman if he doesn’t represent the wishes of his district. This is an expansion of acceptable recall criteria beyond the limited parameters of Joint Resolution 63. Furthermore, what constitutes “the wishes of his district”? Is Vos saying that because Senate District 21 is being redrawn into a much more conservative district that the recall election should be nullified? Wasn’t it Republicans and their supporters who railed against do-over elections? Is the GOP standard to allow “do-overs of do-overs” until they get the political results they want?
If Rep. Vos is in favor of strict limits on recalls, and we believe he is, to entertain the possibility of a recall of an apparent senator-elect — not a sitting senator accused of any form of malfeasance in office — is to play politics. To flip-flop.