Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Colorado: State Senator Hudak Resigns before petitions handed in

Big news out of Colorado, as State Senator Evie Hudak resigned today before petitions were handed in rather than face a possible recall campaign. Hudak is the third state Senator to resign, making this only the second time in history that one state will lose three state Senators to recalls in one year (California in 1995 was the first -- in Wisconsin, the recall losses were staggered in 2011 and 2012). As discussed below, Hudak's resignation allows the Democrats to fill the seat and keep their 18-17 Senate majority.

A couple of key points here:

1) Resignations in the face of recalls are nothing new (just scroll to the post right below for one example). In 2012, 26 officials resigned rather than face a recall. There have been at least two state Senators who resigned in the face of recalls, Michigan's David Serotkin in 1983 and Wisconsin's Pam Galloway in 2012. However...

2) Colorado's law is very different than other states. It requires that the resigning official be replaced by a member of the same party. From a recall point of view, there are other state's that allow appointment rather than election for the replacement official, but Colorado may be the only one that mandates that the official serve in the same party. Since the replacement is up for reelection in 2014, and since the law prevents the recall from being held until the official is in office for one year, the replacement likely cannot face a recall until the 2014 elections. (Edit: David Nir at the Daily Kos points out that the seat is up in 2016. Sorry for the error). (Edit to the edit -- the seat is up in 2014 due to the replacement law -- I will have a longer post on this point soon).

3) Hudak's resignation shows the power of the gun rights forces on a few different fronts. The fact that she is resigning before signatures were handed in points out that she must have felt that there was an excellent chance that the petitioners met the standard (she would have had 5 days to resign after the signatures were handed in and still short-circuit the recall).

4) Hudak clearly thought that the voters would not have objected to flipping the Senate from Democratic control to Republican. If past recalls are any indication, she is right. We've seen it done in 1983, 1995 and 2012.

5) The sheer amount of signatures collected shows real strength. Petitioners needed about 18900 signatures. This is more than twice the amount needed for the Senate President Morse recall, and 5,000 more than required for the Angela Giron recall. Only one of the Wisconsin state Senate recalls required more than the 18000 (and Wisconsin's recall law is much looser).

6) In the past, Colorado recall petitions had the signatures struck down at a high rate. The Giron recall was a striking exception, due to the use of new technology. Are we seeing the same thing in place with Hudak -- and might this new technology make it easier and more cost-effective for initiatives and recalls to make the ballot?

7) As I mentioned before, these recalls were symbolic from the gun control forces point of view (that should not be thought of in the sense of meaningless -- many recalls are symbolic and it does not detract from their importance). Even if the recall has succeeded and the Republicans gained control of the Senate, there was little chance that the legislation would be enacted changing the gun laws. In that sense, a resignation may be even more powerful than a recall vote, especially since a Hudak victory would have at this point changed the narrative for the gun rights groups. Gun rights supporters can now claim to have effectively scared a Senator out of a seat after beating two others based solely on the gun control issue.

8) It should be noted that having a resignation occur the day before Thanksgiving is designed specifically to minimize coverage of the move. The signatures were due on December 3, and then there would have been further delays in checking them and possible lawsuits. It is possible that Republicans could have claimed that the replacement vote should not be short-circuited (it has never been tested before), but the law does read clearly on this front. Hudak had weeks to decide to resign. The day before Thanksgiving is chosen for a reason.

1 comment:

  1. Having looked briefly at the Colorado Constitution, I gather that a recall target is expressly permitted to resign, but the replacement is only to serve until the recall election. I gather that Hudak circumvented this procedure by resigning before the recall effort became official, thereby allowing her successor to serve the remainder of her term.

    If this understanding is correct, it strikes me as an abuse of the constitutional procedure. Leaving aside the potential for a court challenge, it seems to me that there are several potential responses by the Colorado Senate- it could refuse to accept the resignation, it could issue some sort of censure or rebuke, or it could declare prospectively that resignations are not effective until accepted by the body.


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