Sunday, April 29, 2012

Letter in the NYT Sunday Dialogue

Here's my letter in the NYT's Sunday Dialogue. I wrote a lot more detail into the original piece, but (as expected), it had to be cut in half. No problem with that -- letters to the editor are suppose to be shorter than op-eds. In case you are interested, here's the original piece:

Mr. Brost makes a common mistake in unilaterally deciding that recall elections are about “nefarious activity” rather than unpopular legislation or just unpopular officials. If the people of Wisconsin wanted a recall limited to a small set of misdeeds, they easily could have chosen to do so when they adopted the recall back in 1926.

Currently, 18 states provided for the recall for state level officials (and Illinois has it for just the Governor). Of those 18, 11 allow recalls for political reasons (so called “political recalls”) and seven states limit it to a specific set of misdeeds (a so-called “judicial recall” or malfeasance standard). Almost all recalls in the US – and there were 151 recalls last year alone – take place in political recall jurisdictions. Of the 36 state legislative recalls in US history that I have managed to track down, all but one were in “political recall” states. By the time Wisconsin adopted the recall, the benefits and dangers of political recall laws were well known. Wisconsin could easily have adopted the limited “judicial recall” standard – there were already two states that had such provisions limiting their recall by 1926. The voters chose to afford themselves a more powerful weapon.

The complaint that the recall should be so limited – if not outright eliminated – is a longstanding one, with such luminaries as Alexander Hamilton and William Howard Taft strongly denouncing the device. However, voters have a very different take on the value of a political recall. Last year, at least three jurisdictions in the US adopted a no-holds barred political recall for their local officials. Several others states have debated adding a recall law (though in a couple of them, it would be of the judicial recall variety), and overseas, the UK, and states in Canada, Australia and India have had serious pushes for recall laws.

Mr. Brost’s argument that the recall should be limited to “nefarious activity” has already found proponents in the Wisconsin legislature, who have proposed laws limiting the recall to a narrow set of misdeeds. They will have to appeal to voters to adopt a constitutional amendment limiting the recall. The voters like recall laws – they should be the ones who decide whether to dial the laws back. This proposed amendment apparently will get Mr. Brost’s vote, but good luck getting the rest of the state’s populace to back it.


  1. I am pleased to find your Website at a time when I am involved in the effort to recall Gov. Walker. It appears that you have had an abiding interest in the subject of recall processes. You have a perspective that is useful to those of us who perhaps have our vision clouded by being too close to the subject.

    One point: That last sentence has a predictive tone that I don't think I've seen in your other writing.

    As for the legislators here who would like to tightly restrict our right to the process, if they were cats they would want to banish rocking-chairs after getting their tails caught under the rocker.

  2. Thanks! As you may know, letters to the editor sort of require a POV or prediction (so do op-eds), so if I want to get articles out there, I can't just take a 20,000 feet approach.
    Generally, any legislative reworking of electoral law should be examined closely -- there is always a great chance that it serves as incumbent protection.