Stop the mania of recalling elected leaders without just cause
Once upon a time, when emotions ran a little cooler, when voters were dissatisfied with an elected official, their option of last resort was the recall.
The first, better options were to lobby the official to change his or her way of doing business. Then appeal to the checks-and-balances — Unhappy with the governor? Get the Legislature on board. Mad at the mayor? Make sure the city council is on your side.
If all that failed, well, elected offices all have an end-date. Get your ballot in the mail and "voting the bum out."
But if all that failed, and if the abuses mount up, then the so-called nuclear option is the recall.
Unfortunately, there's a new, nutty and hopelessly illogical trend in Oregon: Once a person is in office, start talks of recall on Day 1. Or well before Day 1.
Under this scenario, the nuclear option is Plan A.
This has to stop.
The recall process exists to remove office-holders who have betrayed the public trust, or whose actions so go against the commonweal that no other option is possible.
It should be noted that, in Oregon, an elected official must be in office for six months before he or she can be recalled. That works for re-elected officials, too. But that hasn't stopped the flood of instant-recall petitions.
Ted Wheeler won reelection as Portland mayor on Nov. 3. About 20 days later, a group called Total Recall PAC began an effort to recall him. Not because of anything new that had cropped up in the couple of weeks since the election; because the backers don't like Wheeler.
That's fine. But it's not grounds for a recall.
The reasoning behind a recall is "just cause." Not "Just because."
New Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan won a special election to City Hall in August. Total Recall PAC also has him targeted for a recall. Why? Because he voted against a proposal?to shrink the Portland Police Bureau's budget.
Not because of malfeasance, or criminal acts. But because someone didn't like that Ryan studied an issue, took his seat at the dais, and voted "nay."
In May, Tootie Smith won election as chair of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.
In November, she said she had no intention of limiting the size of her Thanksgiving celebration, despite a plea by Gov. Kate Brown to do so, in order to limit the surging growth in COVID-19 cases. Immediately, progressives called for her to be recalled.
Smith doesn't become county chair until January. In this case, the "kick her out" crowd didn't even wait for Day 1 of her term.
Whatever one may think of Smith, she's been a local firebrand since at least the mid-1990s and she's famous for incendiary statements. That's nothing new. She's incendiary. Voters in Clackamas County knew that, and a majority voted for her.
You can't recall Tootie Smith because she sounds too much like Tootie Smith.
Gov. Brown herself has faced three recall petitions this year alone. Granted, she won reelection in 2018, so she's well past the first-six-month window. But the reasons behind all these failed bids are striking. Brown ran for reelection on a platform of support for a cap-and-trade plan to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions. One group wanted to recall her because she had the gall to support a cap-and-trade plan to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions.
That's right: The recall was launched because the governor kept a campaign promise.
Another recall was based on the fact that the governor imposed statewide restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. As did governors, to a greater or lesser degree, in 49 other states.
Compare these laughable efforts with the successful recall in November of Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay. The effort didn't come on Holladay's first weeks in office. It came about because of his "continued defiance" of the governor's orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19; his attempts to raise money for a city celebration that would have been in violation of the ban on large public gatherings; because of "inflammatory comments" about police killings and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis; and because he'd treated other City Council members poorly in meetings, according to our sister publication, the Oregon City News.
Holladay made his case, his opponents made theirs, and 68% of Oregon City voters opted to toss him out.
That's the appropriate use of the recall process.
The upshot of the ready-fire-aim approach — of recalling any office holder one doesn't like, as a first option — is that it likely will discourage good candidates from running for office. It is difficult to raise funds, to campaign, to make your case, to break out of the pack, and to win elected office. Imagine if, on Day 1 — or before Day 1 — you have to fight for your job all over again. Who would run for office knowing that winning the campaign means immediately campaigning not to get thrown out?
The recall is the option of last resort, not the go-to play for every one unhappy that their side lost an election. In Oregon, the recall process is being abused. And that has to stop.
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