Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Primer on Arizona recall

With the Arizona Supreme Court's ruling giving the go-ahead to the Senate Majority Leader Russell Pearce recall, let's do an early primer.

Banner Year:
Pearce will be the 10th state legislator in the US to face a recall this year, with more possible in Michigan. How unprecedented is this? From the 1908 (when Oregon adopted the recall for state officials) till 2010, only 20 state legislators faced a recall vote (13 of those votes resulted in the official being kicked out). Is Voter Anger to blame or is it something else? What do all these recall mean?

The King is...Still Alive
Pearce would be third state legislative leader to face a recall. The other two survived. See the details here.

Running Up the Score:
Blowout victories are the norm in recall races. While there were a few closes races in Wisconsin, most of them were comfortable victories. There is certainly a logic to the blowout nature -- the official is either really hated, or the interest group that pushed the recall is viewed as going overboard. 

Election Day vs. Special Election --- Pearce's lucky break
Historically, turnout is low for recalls that are held as special elections. This a real advantage to this for recall proponents -- going back to our 20 recalls, 18 were probably held as special elections. 13 of those were successful.
On closely followed recalls, turnout is higher.  Wisconsin, like the Gray Davis recall before, saw a big turnout. None of that matters for Pearce. Arizona has a different law -- recalls on a regularly scheduled Election Day. The result is most likely beneficial for Pearce.

The Interest Group Defense:
Pearce's recall has been viewed as being initiated by a specific interest group. Does that help or hurt the recall's chances? History suggests that the best defense is blaming a specific interest group, rather than a political party. See here for a lot more on the subject, including why interest groups make a great villain.

The lack of a special election will certainly hold down costs (and criticism) of the recall. It also deprives Pearce of an issue. However, thanks to a strange rule in Arizona, Pearce is able to demand reimbursement for his costs. More on that here.

Campaign Finance:
Pearce is not allowed to accept corporate donations. Very different rules than Wisconsin. Not going to be as much money as in Wisconsin anyway.

Spoiler Alert:
Pearce has two challengers. One is alleged to be a "spoiler" candidate to siphon off anti-Pearce votes.

Pearce is the first recall of a state official in Arizona history. Arizona actually has a great history with the recall. The state's original constitution provided for the recall of judges. William Howard Taft vetoed the constitution, resulting in heavy criticism from Teddy Roosevelt and a big campaign issue in the 1912 election. Additionally, Governor Evan Mecham was all set to face a recall in 1988, but was impeached and convicted before the recall took place.

Will there be calls for recall reform? Will the recall disappear? Tune in and we'll see.


  1. Governor Evan Mecham facing a recall election in Arizona in 1988, but was impeached and convicted before the recall election occurred.

  2. Yes, thanks. I don't know how I left that out.