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I Can’t Recall

Posted Aug. 11, 2011, at 10:34 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 15, 2011, at 4:49 p.m.

In early April, then-Rep. Cynthia Dill introduced legislation in the Maine House that would have instituted a recall provision in Maine. This would have given Maine people the ability to essentially call for a “vote of no confidence” in the governor, legislators and constitutional officers, removing them from office.

At first glance, you might think this is a good idea. After all, why shouldn’t Maine people be allowed to fire their elected officials if they become dissatisfied with how they are conducting themselves?

One need look no further than the state of Wisconsin to see why.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin Democrats and labor union interests attempted to exact political retribution for Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial collective bargaining law. Using Wisconsin’s recall provision, they attempted to wrest control of the state Senate away from the Republicans. The Republicans responded with recalls of their own on three of the Democrats who fled to Illinois during the debate.

Anyone who watched this happen should be disturbed by what took place. The reason for these recalls was simple: it was an attempt to exact political reprisal on elected officials for pursuing a policy that a party and interest group disagreed with.

Welcome to politics, folks. Different parties have different opinions on what should be done to help their state and country. Elections have consequences, and one of those consequences is that the winners have the ability to try out their ideas.

Disagreeing with those choices isn’t a sufficient reason to recall lawmakers. If you are unhappy with what they are doing, vote them out in the next election and replace them with people you think will be better.

The health care reform bill pushed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats was the single most controversial policy enacted by Washington in at least a decade. The outrage it stirred up among grass-roots conservative activists gave birth to an entire political movement, the tea party.

Yet, were it possible, I would not have supported recalling the Democrats responsible for ramming that unpopular legislation through Congress. They won the 2008 elections, and they had the right to do what they did. As we saw in 2010, they paid the price in the next election, which is exactly how our representative democracy is supposed to work.

Is it healthy to hold ad-hoc elections when political leaders do things we don’t like? Are we really going to constantly change the parameters of who elects what and where and by whom? Do we really want legislatures elected at different times with different turnout and by different constituencies?

Are we really interested in a state’s political institutions being held hostage every time a conservative interest group is angry at Democrats, and every time a liberal interest group is angry at Republicans?

Recalls are nothing more than a tool for parties and activist groups to try to take each other down any time they smell an electoral opportunity.

That’s wrong. If we don’t like what politicians do once elected, we already have a process to get rid of them: vote them out in the next cycle. It isn’t like we have to wait long, we usually have a chance to make major changes every two or four years.

Removal of lawmakers should be reserved for throwing out the unethical, the corrupt, the incapacitated and those who violate their oaths. Luckily, our system already allows for impeachment and removal in such cases.

It is to Wisconsin’s credit that the Democrats were ultimately unsuccessful in their gambit. Republicans were able to defend four of their six senators (Democrats needed three to gain control), and have an opportunity to take back a seat, perhaps two, next Tuesday.

But these kinds of recalls sometimes work, such as the 2003 California gubernatorial recall that replaced Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger. That election has the unique distinction of having been bad for Democrats, Republicans, the state of California and Schwarzenegger himself.

Thankfully, Dill’s bill went nowhere in the Maine Legislature and doesn’t appear to have any chance of becoming law in the near future. Maine would do well to keep it that way.

Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at matthew.o.gagnon@gmail.com and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.

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