Last spring the Republican Party of Wisconsin hired out-of-state groups to mount petition drives against Democratic state senators who had refused to side with Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on working families and local democracy in Wisconsin.
The groups brought in paid petition gatherers who engaged in practices that were scandalous.
The name of a dead person turned up on a petition seeking to recall state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha. Investigations were launched into the lies told by the GOP operatives when they gathered petitions in the Keshena area against state Sen. James Holperin, D-Conover.
Whole pages of the petitions gathered as part of the GOP drive were disqualified because the people collecting the signatures were from out of state and in many cases did not even know the boundaries of the districts in which they were working were located — thus, they submitted signatures from thousands of people who were not constituents of the targeted senators.
It was a mess. And it cost the taxpayers a fortune.
Now a Republican state legislator is trying to crack down on the practices that the Republican Party of Wisconsin financed.
State Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay, is arguing for a requirement for “paid political peddlers to verbally identify themselves by name and place of residence and disclose the name of the entity that is paying him or her to canvas, or circulate recall papers.”
Had such a requirement been in place, the recalls of Sens. Wirch, Holperin and Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, would never have gone forward.
Unlike the recalls of Republican senators such as Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke, which were backed by grass-roots Wisconsinites, the recalls of Wirch, Holperin and Hansen all failed — by wide margins.
The voters rejected recalls forced on them by “paid political peddlers,” while at the same time backing the recalls of senators targeted by grass-roots Wisconsinites.
To the extent that Weininger proposes to crack down on the abuses encouraged by his party, we applaud him.
This is not to say that Weininger is always right. Some of his election reform proposals are wrongheaded. For instance, he is seeking an amendment to the state Constitution to require that a person signing a recall petition must have voted in the election for which the recall is being sought. Such an amendment would prevent some citizens, particularly young people, from getting engaged in the political process — an idea that is in direct conflict with the constitution’s equal protection principles.
But Weininger’s efforts to clean up the abuses in which his own party engaged last spring are to be commended. Republicans and Democrats must be held to higher standards, and the way to do this is by holding both parties to account — and by requiring that they engage in grass-roots politics, rather than bringing in “paid political peddlers” from out of state to mess with Wisconsin democracy.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin abused the process this year. And we are glad that one Republican, Chad Weininger, has proposed to do something about those abuses.
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