Recall elections can be dangerous

After the government shutdown, pundits have sought recalling elected officials. But be it against either party, recalls damage the public. Photo: Recall election protest/ Flickr

NEW YORK, October 24, 2013 — We saw over the last several months an attempt by conservatives in Texas to recall a State Senator who had introduced legislation to liberalize abortion laws. This follows a very high-profile recall attempt of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by municipal unions and other big spending interests that abhorred his fiscally conservative policies. Just recently, pundits have started talking about recalling Senator Ted Cruz, although no such authority exists on the federal level, who initiated the Federal Government shutdown.

Regardless of which politicos within the political spectrum are initiating a recall, the process itself invites danger and should not be permitted other than where a conviction of a crime has occurred. The citizenry has an opportunity every Election Day to express it’s wrath toward a politician who has broken promises or promoted policy contrary to the will of that district. The problem with recalls is that they are so subjective and easy to implement that Legislators will be in constant fear of being in never-ending campaign mode.


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Being in a campaign is all-consuming. It involves raising money, organizing, shaking hands, kissing babies, crafting media messages and conducting opponent research, and ultimately is a distraction from doing the day-to-day work of government. Those who lost an election should not have the ability to turn around mid-term and say they want a do-over.

Since the origins of democracy, philosophers have debated whether the elected representative should vote based on an instant poll reflecting the majority will of his constituency or if he should vote based upon what his background and knowledge leads him to believe is in the best interests of his district. Reasonable minds can differ on the best approach. Nevertheless, an official needs to have the flexibility to vote in a way that would not lead to fear that one single vote could lead to a premature ejection from the position he or she worked so hard to achieve.

It is bad enough that many of our Congress members are acting foolishly in fear of becoming vulnerable to a primary. Those fears would be magnified a thousand times over if they knew that potential primary opponent would be able to circulate petitions immediately to have that official removed.

Two years is an eternity when it comes to the public mood, but it is a very short time as far as political organization goes. A campaign lasts at least six months and in today’s world, the fundraising is almost nonstop. There is, however, an 18-month period into a term where an official actually invests time into thinking long-term about the needs of his district and his state. The thought of having to be in a perpetual campaign means that virtually nothing of substance will get done for the people of that district.


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The concept is even worse when it is on a higher level — as with a governor, notwithstanding the fact that they usually have four year terms. Whether that governor wins or loses the recall election, the people of that State will have lost during the process. The period from the filing of the petitions to the recall vote is a de facto shutting of that government. It may be open technically, but anything significant is placed on life support.

As the public has been telling Senator Cruz via the polls, if your team lost the election and lost the vote on healthcare, you don’t get to close down the government until things go your way. You wait until the next election cycle and try to convince the public of the merits of your position, hoping you get a majority to effectuate the policy direction you seek.

Likewise, if folks don’t like Cruz’s actions, they will have to wait for his re-election bid to send him packing. Prior to that, as noted above, you don’t have a right to a do-over. There’s a reason James Madison never incorporated the concept of a recall within the Constitution. Statewide officials, be they of either party, should have the same protections.

Let democracy work. Let’s vote for the candidate of our choice and whoever wins, give them the chance to govern.


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Steve Levy

Steve Levy joins Communities as a poltical writer after serving as state and county legislator, and candidate for Governor of New York State, Steve Levy served as County Executive of Suffolk County, New York from 2004-2011.  Presently, Steve Levy is a political commentator and a strategist assisting candidates for elective office.

 

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