The list of instances where individuals who imagine themselves to be aiding Gov. Scott Walker have assaulted and threatened supporters of the drive to recall the governor, and destroyed signs supporting the recall, is growing too long.
While there are always outliers who behave improperly at election time — on the day of Ohio’s recent vote on collective bargaining rights, a Cleveland poll worker bit someone — it is unsettling to see and hear so many examples of inappropriate and lawless behavior by the governor’s misguided enthusiasts.
The worst trouble appears to be in Racine County, where recall petitioners have been menaced by drivers who have veered toward them in what witnesses describe as clearly threatening and potentially dangerous ways. Signs have been destroyed in rural areas. And confrontations have occurred.
There have also been a number of reports of threats and intimidation in smaller communities such as Platteville, in Grant County.
Police investigations have been opened in Madison and other communities, following incidents where Walker backers have destroyed petitions and jostled petitioners. Institutions such as Edgewood College have been forced to move to calm circumstances that turned ugly when a student from DePere grabbed a petition from a circulator and ripped it up.
As reports of abusive behavior and threats by supporters of the governor mount, it becomes incumbent on Walker to step out of his political role and act as a leader to urge a return to civil behavior.
The governor faces the prospect of a recall election. And he is not happy about that. Indeed, Walker is spending an immense amount of his time campaigning to save his job, and urging others to step up and back him. That is the governor’s right, and we would expect no less.
But as governor, Walker is not merely a political player. He is also Wisconsin’s chief executive. And he has a responsibility to set some standards.
The governor should urge all sides to approach the recall petitioning and the likely election as what it is: an exercise in democracy, outlined by the state constitution and respected as such for the better part of a century.
In particular, the governor should urge his supporters to recognize that attacks on recall petitioners, the tearing apart of recall signs, destroying petitions, and verbal and physical threats are attacks on the electoral process and on the constitutional right of citizens to petition for the redress of grievances.
We have over the years defended Scott Walker in many circumstances, arguing that while we may disagree with him on particular issues we respect that he is a responsible player.
That respect was tested when he made a number of troubling public statements during last winter’s wrangling over collective bargaining rights. In particular, we were troubled when the governor admitted that he and his aides had discussed using thugs to disrupt peaceful demonstrations.
This is an opportunity for the governor to redeem himself. He should step up now and unequivocally denounce threats, intimidation and violence that is done in his name by supporters who imagine that they are defending the governor by assaulting the democratic process.
By doing so, Walker can avert troubles, ease tensions and signal that he does still have the ability to rise above petty politics.
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