Wisconsin's Wasted Energy: The Ticker

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By Francis Wilkinson

Wisconsin Republicans won four of six recall elections Tuesday, retaining their majority in the state Senate by one seat. Two Democratic state senators face recall elections next week, but the outcome will not influence control of the Legislature.

Ever since Governor Scott Walker proposed a controversial "budget repair bill" in February, Wisconsin has been engulfed by political rancor. Walker made a mistake ramming through a partisan bill to restrict collective bargaining rights. But Democratic legislators compounded it, first fleeing the state in an effort to thwart the legislation, then retaliating with recall petitions to oust Republican legislators.

Wisconsin is one of 19 states that permit the recall of state officials. Prior to this year, in which eight legislators were targeted for removal, the option was used only four times in the state in eight decades. More than $30 million and countless hours of labor were devoted to this year's campaigns. What a waste.

Partisanship is built into the U.S. political system; calls for everyone to simply play nice and get along are not especially helpful. But successful political leaders balance partisan interest and the public good so that the former doesn't harm the latter. In Wisconsin, as in Washington, party interests became unhinged from public welfare, poisoning an already sour environment.

The solution is not to eliminate recall elections, which can be a useful corrective to the most wayward leadership. They should be reserved for only the most egregious cases of malfeasance or voter discontent. Hopefully, the expensive failure to flip the Wisconsin Legislature from one party to another will dampen recall ambitions elsewhere. Like the World Series, U.S. elections are held at regular and timely intervals. Both contests provide a time-honored response to losing: wait till next year.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)

-0- Aug/10/2011 21:22 GMT