Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Business: Colorado, Wisconsin

Colorado: Complaint filed against City Councilwoman who raised money to defend against a recall that never took place, than rolled it over into her campaign

Colorado: Signatures handed in for Denver School Board President recall

Wisconsin: This decision should help signature gathering efforts

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Business: Wisconsin, Ireland, India and Denver School Board

Wisconsin: Recall efforts are slowing, with one almost ready for handing in. New challengers emerges in one of the Wisconsin seats

Wisconsin: Milwaukee Alderman looking to signature fight to escape recall

Ireland: talking about recalls

India: State looking to adopt recalls

Colorado: Denver School Board President recall --  opponents claim they have the signatures, cost of $100,000 cited for possible election

Nebraska: City Councilman facing recall

Mass: Challengers emerging in Belchertown

North Carolina: Bill allowing Topsail to recall Mayor/City Council passes House, moves on to Senate

Washington: San Juan Island recall of school board fails, due to not meeting the factual or legal requirements for the recall.

Wisconsin History: In 1954, a campaign to recall Senator Joe McCarthy got 335,000 signatures

Monday, March 28, 2011

Biggest recall drubbing ever? Pima County Assessor had worse recall result than Miami Mayor's 12%

Miami has moved on to the next stage in its recall, but I'm still looking for recalls with a bigger vote (for or against) than the mayoral one. Bell, California is one obvious example. But here's another --  Alan Lang, Pima, Arizona County Assessor who was recalled in 1994 for a host of misdeeds.According to the Tucson Weekly, Lang was named worst boss in America by a tabloid TV show.
Lang only received 7.5% of the vote, according to the good people at the Pima County Elections, this after winning election in 1992 with 56.8 percent of the vote. However, it should be noted that the recall apparently took place on Election Day itself, which certainly would have skewed turnout (especially against a Democrat running in one of the biggest Republican years). Plus, Arizona's recall  is run more like a race (with Lang on the ballot) than in other states. Lang finished dead last out of the 6 candidates. Give that recall an asterisk.
So, Alvarez did better than the "worst boss in America." But not that much better.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Business: Wisconsin history, TX, PA and The Daily

Good overview of some of the Wisconsin recall provisions and some history on the state's previous four legislative recalls

Mayoral recall upcoming in La Marque, TX

Penn thinking of the recall? Interesting decision in calling for a higher signature standard for local officials than state ones. I've been working on something about that right now.

And in non-recall related news, here's an op-ed I wrote for The Daily on the presidential election and non-office holders.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Business: Miami Charter reform, Up North

Fallout from the Miami recall continues, with major charter reform proposals

Wisconsin's judicial election battle, reminds me to get our discussion of the judicial recall going

North Carolina thinking of the recall, as is Indiana

Township recall campaign in Genesse

Recalls aren't too successful up north

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Weirdest recalls -- Vol. 1

Last week, in discussing the issue of recall reruns, I linked to two noteworthy reruns in Stockton, California in 1984. Mark Stebbins unseated Ralph White in a City Council election. White launched a recall campaign claiming Stebbins had lied about being black. (One of the best articles you are going to read in People Magazine right there). Stebbins won the first race in May, but then lost in a second recall in December, 1114-1042.

New Business: Wisconsin GAB, Michigan Town and Op-ed in The Daily

Wisconsin GAB -- agency responsible for overseeing elections -- wisely ramping up

Michigan Town Supervisor and Trustees facing recall for landfill sale

The Ides of March and the Miami recall?

My op-ed in The Daily

Technological revolutions and the growth of the recall

Biographies and the “great man” theory helped draw me and countless others into history, but the focus on one or a few people can be overrated. In history and politics, the importance of basic technological changes frequently only gets its due after the fact. In the electoral realm, the perceived personality of the candidate/elected official is given great weight and credit for triumphs to the detriment of more prosaic, and more effective, tools.
Even when these tools are covered, reporters might focus on the hot new item (blogs in 2004, social networking in 2008) and give short-thrift to the changes that basic computing power, cell phones and everyday technological changes have on the electoral process. For instance, the power of the original killer app, the spreadsheet, in transforming campaigning is immense. It is also rarely mentioned.
I think the growth of the use of the recall is a direct outgrowth of tech. Why has the recall expanded in recent years? It’s not just because of the overblown heightened political divisiveness. What, people weren’t upset in the 1930s? The election of 1816 didn’t happen? It is certainly true that each individual instance of a recall is an example of voter anger. But taken together they point to something else. That something is widespread technological changes that have reshaped the electoral environment.
In this op-ed for Politico, I try to delve into this subject. 
Wisconsin shows the change. 20 or 30 years ago, almost no one would have cared about the goings on in the Wisconsin legislature. Few would have followed a California gubernatorial recall campaign. But the collapse of barriers in news coverage and political activity has changed that. We can follow all the twists and turns, and with one-click donations, try to impact the outcome. We’ve already seen that money now can flood a campaign without the official even asking, what I call the “Joe Wilson effect.”
Even the basic tech helps. If someone is mounting a recall, they now have spreadsheets and data that will allow them to properly target exactly which person is most likely to sign a petition, and vote in an election. This radically slices down the cost of a campaign. So to, cell phones let you keep in touch with the troops in the field. And yes, social networks allow an easy way to spread the word, without any filtering.
When people talk about voter anger and try to make a specific recall, or in the case of Wisconsin 16 of them, seem to be extraordinary, it pays to keep in mind what technology has done to make recalls more ordinary than ever.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

New Business: 2 Live Crew Edition

2 Live Crew for Miami Mayor in replacement election

Home Associations Get in the Act

Editorial in favor  of Idaho recalls

Property taxes at the heart of local recall, threatening entire township board

Recall rerun in Douglas, Arizona on the ballot. Winner won election by one vote

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lawyers, Money and recalls (no guns, though)-- Does going to court always make sense?

Maybe it's the Brooklynite in me, but I generally assume that any insurgent candidate is going to face some legal battle in getting on the ballot. So, Ben Smith's article noting that Wisconsin may be facing court battles to get on the ballot is no shocker. Practically every recall makes at least a pit stop in court -- hey, election lawyers gotta eat.

From the elected official's point of view, challenging the recall makes complete sense. Better and cheaper to kill the problem (and drain resources from the opponent), than risk a race. A race would be expensive and potentially exhausting. And, as Smith points out, there are good campaign finance reasons to go for a court fight.

However, I wonder if there might be a PR benefit in letting the recall go forward. Dianne Feinstein looked very strong in winning 81.5% of the vote in her 1983 recall fight (the next year she was on Mondale's short list for the VP). Some contemporary commentators argued that California Senate Pro Tempore David Roberti actually benefited from his expensive recall fight in his race for California Treasurer in 1994 (though this was probably always a minority opinion).

With that in mind, look at New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. Late last year, he won a 4-2 New Jersey Supreme Court decision rejecting a recall attempt against him. The case is presumably being appealed to the US Supreme Court, but there is good reason to think that the court will either not hear the case or reject it. (We'll take up the issue of Federal recalls another day).

Let's say that rather than fighting the recall, Menendez welcomed it. The chances of it actually getting on the ballot were slim. The proponents needed close to 1.3 million signatures -- close to 400,000 more than was needed to recall Gray Davis in a state 4 times as large. If the recall proponents failed to qualify -- a very likely possibility, would Menendez have been able to declare a public opinion victory? Might he yet come under fire in 2012 for using the courts to avoid a vote?

It is definitely best to play it safe and go after the recall in court. But from a strategic view, the recall could be used as a vote of confidence.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No Reruns? Why recalls are rarely a rematch of the last election

In the Wisconsin recall fight, so far only one candidate (Sheldon Wasserman) who lost against one of the threatened Senators in the 2010 election has announced a possible interest in running again in what would be a recall rematch. It could be that other “boys who didn’t win,” especially the people who lost in a close race (Wasserman, who formerly held the seat, lost by 1,000 votes) will jump in once a recall is officially underway.

But it wouldn't be surprising if the losers shy away from the race. Recalls are surprisingly rarely a rematch. Of the 20 state legislative recalls, I only know of one, the 1914 recall of Edwin E. Grant of California (see below for the details of that race), that was a rerun.

It has occurred more often on the local level. But it is still unusual. The more prominent recalls were not reruns.

That’s not to say that losing candidates don’t think of it all the time. After the bitter 1994 Senate election battle, Michael Huffington allegedly wanted to try and recall Dianne Feinstein. As you can see in this story, it was quite temporary. It could be argued that Richard Riordan’s desire to get into the 2003 recall (which was short-circuited by Schwarzenegger) was a“second bite of the apple” (Riordan lost the Republican primary in an upset in 2002), but that seems a little far fetched.

Why doesn’t the rerun happen more often? It is not that losing candidates are chastised – many losers pull an Adlai Stevenson or Grover Cleveland (who actually won a majority of the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College in 1888) and run in the next election. It is also not because voters don’t want to legitimatize a “naked power grab.” Voters have been willing to endorse a strictly political recall that is run simply to benefit one party.

Let’s hypothesize (and your guess is as good as mine). One reason: the candidate may appear to be a sore loser who is trying to reverse, at the public’s expense, a legitimate election vote against him/her. It can easily be seen as, or more likely turned into by the incumbent’s judicious campaigning, a personal vendetta. On this same front, the opposition research has already been done, and the incumbent already knows the dirt to use.

Another powerful disincentive is that voters may see it as hijacking the voter anger (and the volunteer efforts, if any) of the recall for personal gain. Witness Congressman Darrell Issa, who ponied up the dough that got the Gray Davis recall on the ballot, but abruptly dropped out as more popular candidates came in.

Issa also points out the third possible negative repercussion of having a rematch. It gives the incumbent something to hit. The recall suddenly becomes a straightforward political race – it is no longer just about voter anger or a diffuse electorate. The elected official can present ads against the alternative. That Issa was the face of the recall did not help him. He had started to come under fire before he left the race.

None of these reasons are enough to prevent a good candidate from coming forward in a race. Clichés abound in politics and one that is especially true is that you have to be in it to win it. But the paltry history of recall rematches suggests that there are good reasons for losers to shy away from getting involved in a recall. We’ll see if this holds in Wisconsin.

Here’s the Story of the Grant Recall:
In the 1912 senate election, Progressive Democratic Senator Edwin E. Grant defeated incumbent Eddie Wolfe, one of the leaders of the San Francisco conservatives, by 95 votes. Not long afterwards, recall petitions began to circulate. According to progressive writers and newspapers, the recall was started due to Grant's opposition to "vice conditions" with his sponsoring of the Redlight Abatement Act. This earned him the enmity of the still-potent political machine in San Francisco. The petition circulated against Grant did not cite the Redlight Abatement Act, because, according to Bird and Ryan, "to recall a state senator for having opposed vice conditions did not seem possible even in San Francisco...." Rather it emphasized his votes on three bills, one of which would have prohibited the sale of liquor at the Panama-Pacific Exposition (votes in favor of prohibition could be considered an act of political suicide in "wet" San Francisco). In opposing the recall, Grant's supporters focused on whether the "forces of vice" would regain control, and also cited the cost of the "unnecessary expense" of the recall.

The Grant recall was clouded with controversy. Only on the third attempt, in 1914, was the recall finally able to get on the ballot. The man who declared his candidacy for the seat was former Senator Eddie Wolfe. Progressive reporter Franklin Hichborn claimed "some of those who were circulating petitions against Grant had stated the petition 'was to put Wolfe back in the Senate in place of Grant.'" This aspect of the recall, the reversal of an election verdict, is not discussed in depth in the writings on the Grant election. On October 8, 1914, by a 531 vote margin, Grant was recalled and Wolfe elected in his place. Progressives denounced the vote, but the Los Angeles Times, committed opponent to the progressive cause, rejoiced in Grant's defeat and wrongly predicted problems for the progressives and Governor Hiram Johnson in the upcoming election. Grant protested the election based on irregularities in the petitions, but the senate committee investigating the matter was treated with scorn by progressives. The recall of Grant and other uses of the direct democracy provisions by opponents of the progressives brought down calls for changes in the procedure. However, without specific guidelines on how to prevent these problems, the legislature stumbled to a solution. Eventually, the legislature settled for increasing the penalty for forging a name on a petition.

Links: Idaho Education Superintendent, Cali, Alabama and Arizona rerun

Threats of Recall against Idaho Superintendent of Education -- Needs 176,000 signatures
Indiana House Walk Out leads to talk of Recalls -- Just talk, as the state doesn't have a recall law
Arizona recall against Douglas Councilman on the ballot -- this would be a rerun against the losing candidate in the last election. The Incumbent won by one vote (69-68)
Michigan editorial complaining about cost of local recalls
Threats of Mayoral Recall in Vincent, Alabama
Mayor, City Council Recall in the Bay Area city

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Links: Miami, Wisconsin Poll, New Mexico Councilman


Daily Kos Poll claims three Wisconsin Republicans are vulnerable in the recall

New Mexico Councilman Recalled in Second Try

Couple of  generous links to this blog from some excellent and more established bloggers

16% voter turnout -- quite low or is it?

If it's not a record, 88% to remove has got to be close. Turnout was only a tick above 16%, which is very low for almost any election. Any election, that is except apparently the Mayor of Miami-Dade. More people turned out for the recall than for Alvarez' victory in 2008, where he received 65% (116K votes). This 2008 election was not held on Election Day, instead it was held in August, which explains the low turnout. In his original victory, which was held on Election Day in 2004, Alvarez got close to 400K votes.

The lack of any real partisan feel to the recall, and the fact that there was no candidate running to replace him (which would generally lead to Alvarez getting at least some votes from opponents) probably explains the super-lopsided nature of the vote.

Miami Mayor Out in a landslide

Miami-Dade County voters overwhelming decided to remove Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissoner Natacha Seijas in today recall vote. so far, the reports are that this is a landslide, with the Herald reporting an astonishing 88% of voters casting the ballot for removal. I'll have to see if I can find a comparable vote total (even when there is corruption, it is usually not at that level).
Waiting to see the turnout totals.

Voters, Come out and Play

One of the revealing stats that we're on the look out from the Miami recall is voter turnout. Historically, one of the advantages of recalls is that few people come out to vote. Unlike a regularly scheduled election, you have to be motivated and want to show up to the ballot box that day to vote on one specific election. Recall proponents have an advantage, as they have spent months garnering supporters and themselves are angry and motivated to get out. This is why special elections can be a less-than-ideal democratic solution to a vacancy in office.

In 1995, three California Assembly members faced recalls. Each of these well-publicized elections drew from 25 percent to 35 percent of registered voters, well below the turnout for a general election. Similarly, the Michigan 1983 recalls saw a much smaller electorate. This isn't always the case, as Gray Davis actually had a much higher turnout than the 2002 election. The same thing happened in a non-recall setting with the special election of Scott Brown (higher turnout than 2006)

We saw in 2008 that if a recall takes place on a primary day, the advantage may be lost. Two state legislative recalls occurred on primary days that year (Speaker Andy Dillon in Michigan and Senator Jeff Denham in California). Both recalls were easily defeated.

Let's see what happens today. An increase in turnout may be a sign of the maturation of the recall.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Links: New Mexico, 2003 Recall papers, Wisconsin

New Mexico's House approves recalls

CalTech Professor looks at some of the papers on the 2003 recall: I remember the Beth Garrett one is worth reading

Another look at Wisconsin: Okay, linked cause I'm cited in the article

Miami: One Vote or Two?

One of the ways that today's Miami recall is different than in Wisconsin or California is that it does not also include an automatic vote provision. What this means is that if Mayor Carlos Alvarez is removed, the city would have to either appoint someone or hold a second vote for a replacement. Alvarez used this expense as a primary argument to oppose the recall. Recall cost is a common recall defense, one that we'll examine at a later date (Dianne Feinstein used it brilliantly in 1983, Gray Davis, not so much).

On the state level, the plurality of states (9-6) go for a second vote over the instant run-off. The other four states use an appointment procedure

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Links: Mass, Rhode Island, Miami

Belchertown, Mass will feature recall votes of three selectmen. Issue is a Police Chief Renewal Contract

Rhode Island Facebook page calls for recall of Govv. Chafee, though R.I.'s strict law requiring a crime would prevent it from happening.

100,000 have cast ballots in early voting in Miami

The Recall's Oscar moments

Unsurprisingly, despite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leading role, the recall has not received much attention in the world of Hollywood. While The Simpsons once had a recall Mayor Quimby episode, two recent Best Picture nominees have an intersection with key recalls.
Milk was about San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone on 1978. Moscone was succeeded by Dianne Feinstein. Four years later, Feinstein faced a recall (which she defeated with 81% of the vote)  – probably the most famous recall in the country’s history before Gray Davis. We’ll deal with the Feinstein recall in some depth later on, but worth noting here.
L.A. Confidential, set in the 1950s, is believed to have used as inspiration the famously corrupt mayoral reign of Frank ShawShaw was recalled in 1938 (after downplaying a devastating LA River flood). 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Story on the use of the recall

I helped the reporter compile this table of the 13 legislative recalls in the US. I'll post on the seven successful recall defenses in the coming weeks.

Bouncing into view -- the recent explosion in recalls

As numerous commentators have noted, the threat to kick out 16 Wisconsin state Senators is an unprecedented use of the recall. Only once in the recall’s history has as many as three state legislators faced a recall in one term.
But Wisconsin is just the latest, and most prominent, recall battle in the nation. Miami’s mayor is currently fighting a recall, Omaha’s mayor just barely survived one in January and Bell, California just wiped out its Mayor and Council. Recalls have also tried to shoehorn their way onto the federal level, with NJ’s Supreme Court ruling that US Senators are not subject to recalls.
Some political observers have cited a wave of unprecedented voter anger as being the cause of the revitalization of the recall. This is a strange assertion, as it suggests that this wave of voter anger is that greater than any before. The “voter anger” argument ignores more important developments that suggest that the recall is now coming into its own and, barring changes in the law, will continue to grow in use nation-wide. In fact, the recall has been gaining steam since at least 1971.
This blog, and the soon to be launched website, will critically examine the latest updates on recalls happening across the nation, the history of the device, a detailed examination for all state legislative recalls that have taken place up till now, and a look at some of the big historical figures involved with the recall.
A word about the name of the site: The recall has been referred to by many names – such as the “hair-trigger form of Government;” or “Freak Legislation;” but my favorite was the Los Angeles Times, which once called it “The Grand Bounce.” Let’s go bouncing into history and politics and discover what the recall means for the future of the American political system.