While it has shaken up the national races, the first political impact of the coronavirus pandemic is taking place on the local level. Already, there have been 35 recalls attempts focused all or in part on elected officials responses to the pandemic. 30 of these recalls have targeted officials who support the health guidelines promoting social distancing and mask wearing.
At the start of the shutdowns, there was good reason to believe that we would see a precipitous drop in recalls. That may have happened. Some elections were delayed and numerous recalls attempts failed or were abandoned in the planning stage once the social distancing prevented full out signature gathering campaigns.
But since then, pandemic-focused recalls (and to a lesser degree, recalls surrounding the BLM protests and police defunding) have taken off. Republican Governors of Arizona and Idaho have seen petitions. Democratic governors of California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin have all been hit as well, though Republicans (in this case, actual party leaders) have targeted some of these governors since their election in 2018.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Oklahoma, a state that has seen only rare uses of the recall, has been a key participant. As I wrote in this op-ed in Oklahoman, the state has seen fifteen recall attempts in four cities. Additionally, seven officials in Comanche Nation have been targeted with a recall effort, ostensibly over the distribution of pandemic funds (though the petition leader has launched numerous recalls in the past).
Five of these recall attempts have been against officials who have been opposed to enforcement of social distancing rules; two sheriffs and a city councilman in Washington State; an assemblyman in Anchorage, Alaska and a Texas councilman. Washington State is a malfeasance standard/judicial recall state, so a showing of statutorily listed cause is needed to get the recall going.
The other recalls are targeting officials who have been in favor of protective social distancing rules (though the recalls in Norman, Oklahoma are focused on police funding – I have not been able to find an actual copy of the petition – there has also been discussion of social distancing). One election is already set to take place (though not till February), one resignation has occurred and signatures have been handed in against two other
Most of the recall efforts will fail to hand in enough signatures to get on the ballot, which is the norm in recalls throughout the country. But recalls can be a strong indicator of political anger and upheaval. We’ll see what it means going forward.