Why I (Grudgingly) Support the Existence of Recall Elections
My cousin, KesselJunkie, has a blog over at, not surprisingly, KesselJunkie.com. He posted a note on why he doesn’t like recall elections. Not liking them is okay, but I wanted to let him know why I thought they need to exist. In order to double the number of people that might read my comment (from 10 to 20 people), I decided to reprint it here, though I’ve edited it after doing a little research (not much research, but some). I hope you enjoy it.
BTW, for those that don’t understand his online moniker, it’s a Star Wars reference, which is why I emphasize my X-Wing reference. He’s a nerd, but I’m not one to talk, so let’s just leave it at that.
I’ve been watching CNN coverage of the Scott Walker recall election for about 7 hours now. I’ve heard Kessel Junkie’s concerns about the concept of a special election echoed by both the left and the right, and I really want to respond to what a lot of these political experts are saying. Unfortunately, a comment on KesselJunkie.com will have to do, so please pay attention you 10 people. I expand on what I wrote above.
Recall elections serve an important place in our political process, though only 19-1/2 states allow for it at the state level (Virginia “sort of” does, so they count for 1/2). Like anything, they can be abused, and that’s what’s happened in Wisconsin, but that doesn’t sway me against supporting their existence. If a politician commits a crime, the impeachment/conviction process resolves it (relatively cheaply, I might add), though the recall election might replace the impeachment/conviction process for any given state. On the other hand, if you elect an [X]-wing (see what I did there?) politician, and he governs from the [X] (this is what’s happened in Wisconsin), then you should simply stick it out. We aren’t talking about 10- year terms; we’re talking about 2- or 4-year terms, and if you elected an [X]-winger and got what you wanted, you should save the economy some money and not waste it on your sour grapes and the w[h]ine they produce.
There’s a small sliver of factual circumstances in between those two situations. That is, there are legal actions that a politician can take that warrant his or her reevaluation. For example, what if the politician’s family members own several businesses that are getting all the government contracts? If these are legitimate businesses, then no one award of a contract can be seen as illegal, or even inadvisable, but on the whole, it’s troublesome.
What about a politician that breaks promises? What if you elect an [X]-wing politician, but he governs from the [Y]? Yes, the resulting recall election would be “all about politics,” but we’re talking politics. You can’t remove the politics from politics. In this case, the political concern is legitimate, and it speaks to the trustworthiness of a person in whom the public has placed its trust. I’d say that this certainly qualifies as justification for a recall election, depending on the degree.
One reason you could reasonably disagree, however, is that there’s no way to enforce this. How do you evaluate whether people are requesting the recall on the basis of legitimate public concerns or sour grapes? I’ve accused the supporters of the Wisconsin recall election of sour grapes, which would be perfectly in line with the American sense of entitlement about which I often complain on this blog, but do I really know that with 100% certainty? I haven’t even been to Wisconsin in over 10 years, and I certainly haven’t immersed myself in this particular recall election until tonight. Further, my reference to the “degree” of lying shows that there’s a subjective dimension to recall elections, making it even tougher to determine who’s going too far. Lastly, I note that the existence of recall elections doesn’t even address the motives of those drafting, let alone signing, the petitions that make recalls possible, except in those few states where the state constitution requires specific grounds for recall elections. I infer that those states are saying, “Hey, if it isn’t for one of these specific reasons, it’s probably crap, so it shouldn’t be allowed.” I wouldn’t be surprised if those states use the recall election to replace the impeachment/conviction process, which could mean that they really don’t have a recall election as I envision it, though I haven’t researched whether this is true. In any case, Wisconsin isn’t among those states, which includes only Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island, and Washington.
The fact that recalls are so rare keeps me on the side of keeping them legal. In 2011, there were only 12 recall elections I could find that addressed political officials at the state level (as opposed to local level), with 11 state legislators facing recall (the previous single-year was 3, so this was an unusual year). There were no recall elections for federal officials. I haven’t even considered whether they’re constitutionally required by the Wisconsin case law, as opposed to merely provided for in the state constitution. The abuse that’s occurred in Wisconsin concerns me, as I suspect it might encourage similar tactics (from both the right and left) in other states. Until that happens, though, I won’t stand against their existence, and would actually like to see them allowed at the national level, albeit only for circumstances expressly listed in an amendment to the US Constitution. Again, reasonable minds can disagree.
There was an adult guy interviewed by CNN after the results were announced. He broke into tears, claiming that their election was sold out by outside money, and dramatically declaring that this was the, “end of democracy,” and that, “democracy is dead.” (My next post will address why people are so over-dramatic about politics.) While I’d love to discuss Citizens United with the guy to help him see the light (he probably hasn’t read it) – not to mention that exit polls show that 86% of voters made up their mind well before outside money became significant — for now let’s assume that this outspending indeed cost Mayor Barrett the election. So what? It’s a bit hard to sympathize with someone about a corrupt process when that person inappropriately invoked the process in the first place. Also, keep in mind that this politically devastating event wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t a recall election. There’s rarely enough outside money available to spend on elections when they’re occurring simultaneously across the country. The only times outside money could have any significant impact in a state like Wisconsin is where, as here, there is a single election occurring across the entire country allowing the entire country to focus on it. The fact that there’s a presidential reelection bid on its heels assures national focus and outside dollars.
You picked this fight, cry-baby, and you lost. Move on.