Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Year in Recalls -- 168 recalls in 2012; 509 petitions taken out

As it is this blog's second year, we are now looking at our second recap, and the number are pretty impressive. In 2012, there were at least 168 recalls in 93 different jurisdictions. Here's my article in The Week examining the phenomena.

This is an increase from last year, when there were 151 recalls. This year, I also compiled a list of how many times recall petitions were reported to have been taken out -- 509 times. There were also numerous reported recall threats, but I never saw a follow-through, so I didn't include those.

I should point out that I am fairly certain that there are almost certainly recalls that I missed, so the 168/509 numbers should be seen as a floor, rather than a ceiling.

Despite the fact that the single most noteworthy recall -- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker -- failed to remove the official, as a whole, the recalls were extremely successful. 108 officials were bounced, with 82 being kicked out, and 26 resigning before the recall took place. As I pointed out last year, this fact is especially striking compared to the fact that the incumbent reelection rate in the US is at least over 75%.

To answer the biggest question I receive, I do not breakdown the recalls by party. This is simply because most of the recalls are on the local level, where the position is elected on a nonpartisan basis, and it is not readily apparent which party the official belongs to. Additionally, when there is a partisan position, the party label is frequently a misleading way of judging the recall, as many are not based on D v. R partisan motivations.

If you would look at the history, especially at the state legislative level where party is most obvious, you would see both parties are not shy about using recalls (for example of the 14 state legislative recalls from 1981-2008, most were launched against Democrats, and ethics played very little role in those recalls).

That being said, I would say that the majority of recalls that had a partisan basis (and it is a very small minority of the 168 and the 509) to them in 2012 were launched by Democrats or Democratic-supporting groups. The reason for that is simple -- recalls are generally used by the group that is not in office. The Democrats did very poorly in the 2010 elections. 

Some other interesting facts:
  • Recalls were held (or an official resigned in the face of a recall) in 20 states and the District of Columbia;
  • Since 2011, 25 states and DC have held recalls
  • The state with the most recalls was once again Michigan. Since the state changed its recall laws, we'll see if that holds up.
  • The only state level recalls bin 2012 were in Wisconsin -- the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and four state Senators.
  • 29 mayors faced recalls -- many of these mayors were elected as part of the city council, so the votes were not city-wide
  • The reasons for recalls are all over the map. As regular readers of the blog know, I am very dismissive of the idea that the economic downturn is wholly to blame for the recall explosion. In fact, technology is playing a very large role in the expansion of the recall.
Recalls continue to face barriers from administrative or judicial officials:
  • 22 times an agency or election commission prevented the recall from getting on the ballot (for reasons that did not include a failure to gain enough signatures.
  • 22 other times, the judiciary rejected the recall (most prominently in El Paso, Texas).
  • In one instance, in Holy Cross Alaska, the city council simply refused to schedule the recall. 
Despite the criticism of the recall, it continues to expand.
  • Five localities adopted the recall in 2012.
  • One locality, College Station, Texas, became the first jurisdiction that I know of, to change their recall from a political recall to a judicial recall or a malfeasance standard.
  • Michigan's legislature adopted a new law that may significantly curtail the use of the recall in the state. This came at the same time as their adoption of a Right to Work law. It should be noted that the recall changes were not approved by voters -- it would have been interesting to see how voters would have felt about the changes. As I note in The Week:
Following the Walker recall campaign, there was talk of recalls facing a backlash. Pundits were quick to cite a Wisconsin exit poll that showed 60 percent of voters wanted to limit the use of the recall to malfeasance or incompetence. Another 10 percent of voters wanted to eliminate the recall altogether. However, all the talk around that poll had one major flaw: 70 percent of voters might have touted opposition to the use of the recall, but that didn't stop 47 percent of voters from casting ballots to kick Scott Walker out of office.
The reasons for the recalls this year span the spectrum. The Wisconsin recalls were the most prominent, but there were plenty of others that received notice. Firing of city managers and police chiefs were very popular issues. The Fullerton, California recalls were very well followed. Others included the Mayor of Troy, Michigan, a big tea party supporter who was targeted for, among other things, some anti-gay comments.

Some of the more noteworthy ones including extramartial affairs by city council members, opposing another member's appointment of his girlfriend to the village counciltrashing a hotel room, one launched by the wife of a losing candidate and using Meth.  And for movie buffs, the Mayor of Truth and Consequences, New Mexico survived a recall. Even the ghost of Belle Starr couldn't help as there is now a new huckleberry in town: the mayor of Tombstone, Arizona was bounced and replaced by the owner of Johnny Ringo's bar.

Of course some times, the recalls failed to get on the ballot. Noteworthy among these was a Moreno School Board member who has been indicted on 11 counts, including rape, pimping, pandering and attempted murder. Petitioners simply didn't get the signatures.

In the face of the "Bermuda Triangle" nature of the recall, with this continue? No reason to think it won't. There have already been plenty of recalls scheduled for 2013, including three Council members in Poland, Maine who are facing a recall vote on January 3.

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