News Story

Politicians Put Recall Rights In Crosshairs

A resolution has been introduced in Lansing that would strip voters of their rights to recall public officials for policy decisions. In practice, this means that politicians could raise taxes, waste tax dollars and pass and enact virtually any law without having to fear being recalled.

The bill, Senate Joint Resolution S, states specifically, “The discretionary performance of a lawful act or of a prescribed duty by an elective officer does not constitute a reason to recall that elective officer.” This would mean that lawmakers couldn't be recalled for political reasons.

The measure then lays out the reasons for which an elective official could be recalled. They would be limited to those guilty of felonies or a misdemeanor involving a breach of a public trust like those who have misappropriated resources or committed "any other official misconduct."

SJR S is sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, and co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe.

Because it would be a constitutional amendment, the measure would have to be approved by the voters in a statewide election. Two-thirds approval of both the Senate and House would be required to place the proposal on a statewide ballot.

In the past, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer has said he'd support limiting recalls to only misfeasance and malfeasance in office. Aside from the MDP, at this juncture it is unclear which interest groups in Lansing would be supportive of SJR S and which might oppose it.

Randy Bishop, of the Northern Michigan Patriots, said the proposal would send the wrong message — particularly in an election year like 2012.

“I think if they did something like that it would make a lot of people angry,” Bishop said. “The Republicans should want to have the Tea Party out there working to try to defeat Sen. Debbie Stabenow, not distracted by something like this.”

Wendy Day, of Common Sense in Government, said she thought such a proposal would have an unfavorable effect on grassroots conservatives.

“This could be an overreaction to all of the money the Republicans just spent against the Michigan Education Association in the Scott recall,” Day observed. “But I think it would just give us all another reason to be suspicious about the Legislature. Most people would just see it as another example of the legislators acting badly.”

Tina Dupont of the West Michigan Tea Party also wondered why it would be necessary to recall a public official who was guilty of the sorts of things outlined in SJR S.

“Aren't those things that they could be removed from office for doing under other laws?” Dupont asked. “I don't know about other people, but this is the sort of thing that really irritates me.”

Inside Michigan Politics Editor Bill Ballenger said the resolution looks like an all around loser to him.

“I'd say it's just not going to happen,” Ballenger said. “I have real doubts that this thing could even pass in the Legislature and be placed on the ballot. From the perspective of the Republicans, I think a lot of Tea Party people would get upset about it. They'd say: 'There they go again.'

“Maybe they could get both the House and Senate to put up the two-thirds “yes” votes needed to put it on the ballot,” Ballenger continued. “They could claim that all they were doing was voting to let the voters decide. But even with that excuse, I'd think many lawmakers would be concerned about doing anything that looks like they're trying to protect themselves. If it did get on the ballot, I think the voters would probably reject it anyway.”

Leon Drolet, director of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said voters should be wary of the resolution.

“Some voters might think this proposal would be giving them something they don't have,” Drolet said. “Many voters might not be aware of their constitutional right to recall officeholders. They might look at this and say 'yeah,' we should be able to recall people who break the law. It would be all about trying to fool the public.

“In this proposal the politicians are trying to set up a special standard just for themselves,” Drolet added. “Those who wrote the state Constitution specified that the right of voters to recall public officeholders should not be restricted to criminal acts. We already have something we use when people break the law; it's called prison.”

Drolet helped lead several recall attempts in 2007 over a state tax hike. He said a key question might be, who would put up money to fight the proposal if it were on the ballot?

“The voters are supposed to be the boss,” Drolet continued. “They have the right to fire their representatives when they no longer think they're representing them. Imagine if employees couldn't be fired unless they were convicted of a crime. Why would employees even bother to show up to work, if they couldn't be fired?

“It could be a very interesting coalition,” Drolet said. “You might see Tea Party patriots working next to MEA members. Who knows?”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.