Friday, December 02, 2011

Total Recall

Now that the people were successful in removing a state lawmaker, it must be time to change the law.

Less than a month after the rare recall of a state lawmaker, Republican leaders in the Michigan Senate proposed a constitutional amendment on Thursday to limit the reasons for which an elected public official can be recalled.

Michigan law now allows a recall to be attempted for just about any reason, including an elected official’s policies and votes. The proposed amendment would limit a recall to reasons such as certain criminal convictions, official misconduct or misuse of public resources. An elected official could not be recalled for the “discretionary performance of a lawful act or of a prescribed duty.”

The proposal comes less than a month after voters in Genesee County narrowly recalled state Republican state Rep. Paul Scott from office for his education policy and budget votes.

Hmmm. Don't seem to remember the Republicans being so hot to move on this when out-of-state anti-tax groups were funneling money to Leon Drolet in the attempt to recall Democratic lawmakers who voted to raise taxes in 2007. But now that we are living in the age of the Big Power Grab, might as well take away this right from the citizens too, eh?

Only nineteen states have the power of recall over state officials, and in eight of those, you need specific reasons like the ones listed above. Michigan is a rarity in this regard - but so are successful recall attempts. It's virtually impossible to recall a governor, incredibly difficult to recall a representative or senator, a bit easier at the local level, where petty differences have led to some abuse in certain areas of the state.

So be it. Yes, they can be annoying. Yes, they can be frivolous. But ultimately, the decision to remove an elected official is still in the hands of the voters, and that's where it needs to stay, now more than ever. Since we are also living in the age where campaigns for elected office are intentionally deceptive and/or vague on the details of how an elected official would govern once in power, it's a very important right to keep intact.

Consider this: Does anyone think that Rick Snyder would have been elected had he come out and said, "Yes, I'm going to make deeps cuts to funding for your schools and cities, raise taxes on seniors, take away your middle-class tax deductions, cut unemployment benefits, throw people off of food assistance, sign a law that would allow for the complete takeover of your city, and to top it off, I'm going to give more tax cuts to business owners?" It's doubtful. And even after all of that, we still couldn't get a recall on the ballot, although that can probably be chalked up to lack of money and time to collect enough signatures. They came up with nearly a half a million, which is an astounding number for a group that didn't have the backing of the party or professional organization.

Political campaigns have always carried a certain amount of deception to be sure, but lately it's been turned into an art form. Any sense of shame and decency has been thrown right out the window. The Romney campaign flat-out lied in an ad recently, and then bragged about it later. That's where we are at, laughing at the lie, and happy to get away with it. And now that we are also in the age of unlimited, secret donations to campaigns to purchase this type of false advertising, citizens need to retain the right to remove those that have intentionally deceived the public, if the public is that unhappy with how the official has chosen to govern once in office. In the case of four-year terms, if you have to wait for the next election, it may be too late.

Changing Michigan's law would take a constitutional amendment, and that's no easy feat to pull off, either. It will take 2/3rds in the House and Senate before it would go to the voters, and it may look like an attempt by lawmakers to protect their own jobs. That probably won't go over well with the majority of voters at this point. But who knows. People may be sick of the squabbling too, and voluntarily give up their right to recall. Hard to believe, but stranger things have happened. For now, let's hope it doesn't come to that.

We may be very sorry someday if it does.