It comes as little surprise to us that some in Lansing are calling for substantial reform of the provisions under which an elected official can be recalled from office, following a spate of attempts to oust state lawmakers has cropped up in recent months, including against two members — one Democrat, one Republican — of the lakes area’s delegation to the state House of Representatives. Without weighing in on the merits of the details of a Senate Joint Resolution floated by Republican leadership in the state Senate, it would be wise of lawmakers to let the Michigan electorate decide on a constitutional amendment narrowing the reasons why a legislator can face the wrath of the voters in a recall effort.
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Frenchtown) and state Sen. Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) put forth Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) S last week, calling for Michigan voters to decide in the Feb. 28, 2012 election whether to amend the Michigan Constitution of 1963 to ban recall efforts triggered by “the discretionary performance of a lawful act or of a prescribed duty by an elective officer.”
Under the proposal, an elected official could only be recalled in the event that he or she is convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor involving the breach of public trust, the misappropriation of public resources, or any other official misconduct by that officer.
But hold your horses. Rightfully so, the state Legislature putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires support from a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the state Legislature, the state Senate and the state House of Representatives, both of which are controlled by the GOP. Drumming up that much support for something, particularly an effort as serious as this, is going to take gusto and, in all likelihood, some serious arm-wrangling, so don’t bet on voting on the matter in February.
Current state law provides that, with the exception of judges, every elected official in the state is subject to a recall election by the voters of the district or community in which they are elected. However, a recall petition cannot be filed against the official “until (he or she) has actually performed the duties of the office to which they were elected” for six months during that current term, and a petition cannot be filed against the official during the last six months of their term.
The petition for recall currently is required to clearly state each reason for recall, which “shall be based upon the officer’s conduct during his or her current term of office.”
And that legal leeway — the only stipulation is that the recall is based on “the officer’s conduct during his or her current term of office” — is the guise under which the two recalls targeting a pair of lakes area state lawmakers, state Rep. Gail Haines (R-Waterford, West Bloomfield) and state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake), have been propagated by Waterford’s Neil Billington and West Bloomfield’s David Rohtbart, respectively.
State Sen. David Robertson (R-Waterford) accurately, although perhaps glibly, put it as accurately as can be when he said that, theoretically, a lawmaker could be recalled for the way he parts his hair. However, Robertson said, “The Michigan Constitution trusts us enough to know that we won’t recall somebody on that basis.” He’s right — to an extent.
We’ve said before and we’ll say it again: The efforts targeting Haines and Brown — who is challenging the clarity of the recall petition language targeting her in court today, Wednesday, Dec. 7 — are frivolous, based purely on grinding political axes and not misfeasance or malfeasance in office, and voters in their respective districts shouldn’t sign petitions targeting them for recall. Last time we checked, voting your conscience wasn’t against the law — in fact, it’s what Haines and Brown were elected to do.
But beyond voters in Haines’ 43rd House District and Brown’s 39th House District doing nothing vis-a-vis the recall efforts, here’s what also can be done: Let the voters decide the merits of recall election reform, something Robertson said has been tried before legislatively but has always been smacked down by the courts, leery of hamstringing the public’s right to recall elected officials.
And we can understand that skittishness, particularly in an era of people still bandaging wounds inflicted by Kwame Kilpatrick and Monica Conyers and others, but there comes a point when enough is enough and the electorate has to chime in on the matter — which is exactly what SJR S allows for.
While not backing or opposing the aims of the resolution as it’s currently worded — the legislative process could certainly allow it to get butchered in committee or on the floors of either the state Senate or House — we do support giving Michigan voters a real voice in recall election reform where it matters, which is at the ballot box.