Americans Deserve Recall Power

Nothing is more powerful in a democracy than fed up citizens lawfully yanking public officials out of their jobs. Considering all the frustration and anger about government that is too big, expensive, corrupt and dysfunctional, it is wise to consider how much better American democracy would be if citizens could recall members of Congress, the President and even Supreme Court Justices. In a world moving at faster and faster speeds why wait for the usual ways to fix government, especially when none of them seem to work?

Fearful politicians have given citizens in relatively few states and local governments the right to recall government officials. A most memorable and recent recall was the governor of California, Gray Davis, in 2003.

Direct voting to recall government officials is a prime example of direct democracy. The action may be called a recall election or a recall referendum. It is needed when representative democracy fails the public. Which most Americans definitely think is the case for Congress.

Only eighteen states allow recall of state officials. Specific grounds for recall are required in only eight states. Eleven states allow recall of judicial officials. In at least 29 states (some sources place this number at 36), recall elections may be held in local jurisdictions. Three-fourths of recall actions in the US are at the city council or school board level.

Here are some other recent successful recalls.

1983 recall efforts of two Michigan state senators

1988 recall of Oregon state legislator

1995 recall of two California Assembly members

2002 recall of mayor of Flint, Michigan.

2002 recall of multiple Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, elected county officials

2003 recall of Wisconsin State Senator

2005 recall of mayor of Spokane, Washington.

2006 recall of mayor of Roosevelt, New Jersey

In 1988, Arizona voters filed enough signatures to trigger a recall election for Governor Evan Mecham, but he was impeached by the state’s House of Representatives before the date of the scheduled recall election.

In some places the successor to a recalled official is elected at the same time, others in a special election afterwards and in others by appointment.

Right now there is no way to recall federal officials. Don’t you think it is time to change this? If you do, then understand that there must be a constitutional amendment and clearly Congress will never propose such an amendment.

What is the alternative? The Founders gave us the path to such reform. They gave us the option in Article V of a convention of state delegates that has the same power as Congress to propose constitutional amendments. Learn about it at Friends of the Article V Convention website, and learn why Congress has refused to obey the Constitution and give us the convention that over 700 applications from all 50 states have asked for.

Recall should be seen as a serious alternative to voting federal incumbents out of office. This has never worked to any significant degree for a host of reasons, despite serious attempts to vote out congressional incumbents. Prime among them is that once in office members of Congress become addicted to power and corrupted by money used to stay in office.

What about term limits? This sounds good, but here too many people once in office may do things that the public condemns while still within their allowed terms. Better to have them fearful of being recalled rather than not being reelected. Also note that impeachment and criminal prosecution are difficult legal processes to remove an official from office. Usually it is incompetence, dishonesty and non-responsiveness to constituents that angers people.

There is probably more discussion now about constitutional amendments than in a very long time. But, oddly, those who seek true reforms seem oblivious to the enormous power of the recall option. Think about it. We, the people, should have the sovereign right to fire federal officials, especially members of Congress, but even the President and Supreme Court Justices. That way they are more likely to respect the Constitution and really listen to we, the people, rather than the corporate and other special interests that feed them big money so they can keep telling us big lies. If we don’t get the power to fire bad government officials, then future generations will pay a very, very high price.

Don’t be a constitutional hypocrite. Support using the Article V convention option. Let your members of Congress know that you want one. Let everyone know you support having the recall option for federal officials. If all government officials work for us, then we need the constitutional right to fire them. If you want to take back your country from the rich and powerful, then recall power is needed. Power to the people!

Joel S. Hirschhorn was a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association; he has authored five nonfiction books, including Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. Read other articles by Joel.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on April 22nd, 2010 at 9:39am #

    It is to bad that one wld never be allowed to recall or interpret constitution and othe laws.
    Recalling all generals-pols-prezes wld also be needed. Actually, a jail for them wld even be better.

    Blaming an individual or an individual slated for sacrifice, ?anyway, is of the system and not outiside the system.
    But jailing generals-pols is illegal; i.e, it is outside law and system. So system wins once again. Who, what wins then if not the uncle?
    In short, the more things change the worse it gets for some people; while at the same it gets better and better for few people.
    That’s the change i believe in. If next decade proves that i am wrong, recall me and what i said and rub it in. How ab putting me in jail?
    Hey , don havski, or is it have ski? where are u when i need u? tnx

  2. Don Hawkins said on April 22nd, 2010 at 11:03am #

    Here Bozh and could be ski my grandfather and that double Eagle tattooed on arm was always talked about and not by him. He had his birthday on Christmas. The constitution was it taken from the sum of all part’s known knowledge at the time? Any knowledge been gained in the last two hundred years or so?

    “[The skeptic community overwhelmingly embraced what they formerly dismissed as] New Age claptrap … We give up! The nuts were right.”

    Am I a nut oh yes.

  3. Rehmat said on April 22nd, 2010 at 6:30pm #

    Democracy, like the other slogans such as human rights, freedom, justce, gender equality, etc. – has been corrupted so much by the elites that they have all lost their original meanings. Interestingly, Muslims make the largest minority groups in the US, India and Israel – but they’re the most persecuted ones in those countries. American writer Stephen Lendman wrote: “Is it less true for America or in how Israel treats Muslims, many its own citizens yet denied virtually all rights afforded to Jews, and in Palestine none under military occupation.” Indian writer Arundhati Roy compared Hindu right wing (Hindutva) persecution of Muslims in India to Hitler’s persecution of Jews. She asks: “What kind of India they want? A limbless, headless, soulless torso bleeding under the butcher’s clever with a flag driven deep into her mutilated heart?”

    In the US, no political leader can dream of working for the interests of his own country. They all compete with each other to prove to the Israel lobby groups (AIPAC, ADL, AJC, etc.) that he/she can look after the interests of a foreign country (Israel) better than his/her opponents. Former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney has pulled the mask from the US democratic charade: “There are many Members of Congress who wants to be free. I am one of them. I wanted to be free to vote according to my conscience, but I had been told that if I did not sign a pledge supporting the military superiority of Israel, no support would come my way. And sure enough, I did not sign the pledge and no support came my way. I suffered silently year in and year out, because I refused to sign the pledge. An then like a slave that found a way to buy his freedom – I went to work – I wanted to be free – Free to cast the vote in US Congress as I saw fit and not as I was dictated to…..” – Cynthia McKinney.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on April 23rd, 2010 at 12:11am #

    Arguing for more use of the ‘recall’ provisions is mad. It will simply be used by the real rulers of the US, the moneyed ruling class, to remove anyone who questions elite privilege, Zionist dominance or any of the other features of the US dystopia. Why wait for the regular elections to finance the removal of ‘anti-Semites’ who question Israel’s God-given right to practice their religiously sanctified rituals of child-murder, or ‘socialists’ who oppose elite avarice, when you can spend a little loose change organising a recall campaign? The US system is irredeemable, having been cleverly designed to ensure the dominance of the rich, and made more and more beneficial to their interests and inimical to those of the other 90% orso of society (let alone the rest of humanity)ever since. The US system is fascism with a ‘democratic’ facade, one so thin and tattered that it makes a Potemkin village look like Angkor.

  5. hayate said on April 23rd, 2010 at 11:48am #

    Recall works if one has control of the media. Like everything else in modern politics, control of the media is key to success most of the time. There are rare exceptions of people power overriding the media influence, but this is extremely rare. What that means is that any recall attempt will have to have a strong alternate medium of communication opposed to the media that will get heard by as many people. Otherwise, the media will just select the result the zionist, corporate oligarchy wants.

  6. Charlie said on April 23rd, 2010 at 5:18pm #

    I try to be an optimist but reality so often rears its ugly head that some pessimism inevitably creeps in. For instance, yes, recalls hold the promise of better government but, let’s face it, not in the US.

    We have no democracy. We have a kind of corporate, elitist, monied, fascism wholly in control. But ask yourself, how did the current crop of lapdogs and sycophants get into office? They were elected, and they were elected by the same nitwits the author claims will do much, much better if given a recall option.

    OK, instead of kick the bums out, we’ll recall the bums out. But guess who’ll be waiting in the wings to replace the bums. More bums. Bigger bums. Dumber bums. But bums nevertheless.

    What good is a recall when you replace one crook with another?

    I live in Tennessee–the buckle of the Bible belt. Gun-totin’, God-fearin’ Tennesseans by the zillions hate the gov’t because [fill in the blank with any Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter idiocy]. The voters here will happily recall any official who dares to even offer the slightest hint of disagreement with the farthermost right-wing ideas. And they would continue to use a recall until they have a borderline Nazi in office.

    To be effective, a recall–or a representative democracy for that matter–must draw its strength from an open-minded, well-informed, intelligent electorate. We currently do not enjoy that luxury in the US, so I can’t see recalls accomplishing much, other than providing more fodder for a media that studiously and obediently avoids any real discussion of issues.

    Moreover, the recall effort and subsequent proceedings or voting would be nothing but a constant distraction from the real work of gov’t.

    I’m not openly opposed to a mechanism for removing federal officials from office, but remember the old saying about being careful about what you wish for because you may get it. In other words, if you think the current gov’t is bad, imagine a gov’t put in place by recalls. Your own example of the California governor comes to mind–look at the, uh, economic paradise that recall-riding Arnold Schwarzenegger has helped to create in California.