At least two campaigns to recall elected officials
in Lansing are under way. Several high-profile recall elections recently
concluded in Wisconsin. Average citizens don’t usually pay much attention to
recalls, but lawmakers watch them like hawks. Citizens should jealously guard
any power they have that so captures their representatives’ attention.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s positive fiscal and education reforms
sparked two recall efforts in Michigan. One of them targets the governor
himself and the other seeks to remove from office the chairman of the House
Education Committee, Paul Scott of Grand Blanc.
It appears likely that anti-Scott forces gathered enough
signatures to force the Republican into a November recall election. If so,
voters who last elected him by a 19-point margin will decide whether to remove
him from office. If recalled, his seat will remain vacant until voters choose
his successor in the next regular election.
Anti-Snyder forces recently failed to collect enough
signatures to force his November recall election. They say they will keep
trying, but appear to be too poorly funded to achieve the very difficult task
of recalling a governor.
Democrats and unions, infuriated by Wisconsin Gov. Scott
Walker’s bold fiscal and collective bargaining reforms, launched recalls
against six Republican state senators in a bid to wrest control of the upper
chamber from the GOP. They fell short, recalling only the two Republicans who
probably would have lost their next elections anyway. Republican allies also
failed in their attempts to recall two Democrat senators who infamously fled
the state as a parliamentary stall tactic.
Most of these recall
attempts were motivated by politics, not scandal. Some have called that a
misuse of recalls. The Grand Rapids Press editorial board wrote that recalls “…
should be undertaken for grave reasons only — reasons such as corruption,
negligence or dereliction of duty.”
But that is a fundamental misunderstanding of a recall’s
purpose. Michigan’s Legislature has constitutional authority to impeach and
remove lawmakers guilty of “corrupt conduct in office or for crimes or misdemeanors.”
The people have constitutional authority to recall lawmakers for “reasons or
grounds” that are expressly “political.”
Recall elections aren’t
intended to allow removal of officials for certain reasons only. Recall
elections are intended to allow the people themselves, not just the
Legislature, to directly remove officials between elections.
Recall laws prevent chaos by requiring a high number of
signatures to trigger an election and a strict process to approve ballot
language. A few people who don’t like a lawmaker cannot force a recall, which
is why recall elections are rare and successful recalls are rarer still. The
last Michigan lawmakers recalled were two Democrat state senators in 1983.
Republicans now control
all branches of state government. While some of them are targeted for recall,
they should resist any temptation to make it harder for the people to recall
lawmakers. At the same time, Michigan residents should be ever vigilant to
guard this important check on government’s power over the people.