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Capitol recall rally

Hallis Mailen of Madison participates in a rally at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Backers of campaigns to force recall elections against Gov. Scott Walker and others gathered in the Capitol rotunda as organizers of the recall efforts delivered signed petitions to the offices of the state's Government Accountability Board throughout the day.

It would be harder to launch a local recall effort under a bill introduced Monday in the state Senate that would allow such efforts only against officials charged with criminal or ethics law violations.

Currently, to recall a city, village, town or school district official in Wisconsin, a petitioner need only state a reason for the recall, but there are no restrictions on what that reason could be, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board. Those seeking recall of a federal, county or state official in Wisconsin need not state a basis for the recall, he said.

Senate Bill 114 is part of an overall push by some Republicans to raise the bar on removing elected officials in Wisconsin. The state saw a wave of 15 recall elections in 2011 and 2012 targeting state senators, both Republican and Democratic, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and Gov. Scott Walker. Walker, a Republican, became the first recalled governor in U.S. history to retain his seat.

Last session, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, introduced a constitutional amendment to apply the higher standard requiring a criminal or civil ethics charge to recall a congressional, judicial, legislative or county official. That measure passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate, where Harsdorf plans to reintroduce it this session. Constitutional amendments must be passed by two successive sessions of the Legislature and by voters in a statewide election.

This bill, also sponsored by Harsdorf, would extend the same higher standard to local officials. Harsdorf said local recalls are covered under state law and would not require a constitutional amendment to change.

“(The bill) really is intended to recognize that there is a place for recalls in the event that there are criminal violations or a violation of a code of ethics,” said Harsdorf, who emerged victorious after her own recall in 2011. “It is a very dangerous road to go down to allow recalls when there’s a disagreement on an issue. You don’t want to discourage elected officials from making those tough decisions.”

She added that voters upset with an official’s actions still can remove him or her from office — at the next election.

Walker’s own political career was boosted by a recall effort against former Milwaukee County Executive F. Thomas Ament. The attempt to remove Ament was fueled by residents’ anger over six-figure lump sum payments made to county retirees in addition to their pensions. Ament abruptly retired in 2002, and Walker won the vacant seat in a special election that year.

Under the proposed new standard in both the bill and constitutional amendment, neither Ament nor Walker nor any of the recalled senators would have been eligible for voter removal from office.