Overuse of recall becoming a bad trend

Republicans are cheering and Democrats are glum this week after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall vote.

Fulfilling a campaign promise, Walker stripped away many collective bargaining rights of public employees — and really ticked off their unions when his legislation also made union dues optional.

I’m happy that Walker won, but not because of the specific issue involved. I’m in a tiny minority it seems, but my philosophy is that we have recall elections every two, four or six years, and that’s enough.

If voters don’t bother to turn out  at a general election, why should we then have a do-over several months later?

Unfortunately, in then hyper-political world in which we live, zealots on all sides think the recall is the way to repair the damage done by…? Elected officials? No, voters.

I think the only reason an elected official should be recalled is for committing, as the U.S. Constitution says, “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

However, recall is being used increasingly in the United States because somebody became upset over policy differences.

Wikipedia reports that in 2011, 150 recall elections were held across the nation involving 52 city councils, 30 mayors, 17 school boards and 11 state legislators. Of the 150, 75 were recalled and another nine resigned rather than go through the recall ordeal.

In most instances, the issue was a policy difference with the incumbents.

Only two state governors have been recalled, both over policy differences.

In 1921, North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier was ousted along with the state attorney general and the
agriculture commissioner.

The three formed the State Industrial Commission. Frazier was a liberal Republican, and two years previously, he had pushed through legislation creating a state-run bank and a state-run flour mill. These ideas were backed by the Non-Partisan League, which endorsed Frazier, as a way to counter what it perceived as too much power held by private enterprise.

The economy then went sour and Frazier and friends got the blame.

In 2003, Gov. Gray Davis, D-Calif., was recalled when the state suffered rolling electrical blackouts and huge budget deficits after the dot.com tech-bubble burst. Tellingly, Davis had been easily re-elected to a second term a year before — but with the lowest voter turnout rate in state history.

I’m not arguing that any of the people mentioned above deserved to be re-elected or their actions supported. What I’m saying is that when voters elect people to a given term, we need to give them a chance to lead, and not put them on such a short leash.

Everyone, Democrat or Republican, these days is hoping for bold leadership to get us out of our economic mess, but the more we use recall, the more timid the politicians become.

Minnesota is one of 18 states that have a recall process, having approved it in 1996. The state Constitution says, “The grounds for recall of an officer other than judge are serious malfeasance or nonfeasance during the term of office in the performance of the duties of the office or conviction during  the term of office of a serious crime.”

A felony conviction is already an automatic disqualifier for public office. But malfeasance? Nonfeasance? You can look up their meaning in the dictionary, but my guess is that any of the above situations can be interpreted as such by someone. I predict it won’t be long before a recall vote comes to a precinct near you.  Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. He may be reached at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at [email protected]