The Right of Recall
By Peter Ferrara. This article originally appeared on Fox Forum on January 25, 2010.
Congress is out of control. The public overwhelmingly opposes the pending legislation for a government takeover of health care. But Congressional leaders are telling us they don't care. They know best, and they're going to pass it anyway.
We see the same attitude on other issues, from global warming regulation, to taxes, government spending, deficits, federal debt, energy policy, welfare, corporate bailouts, and beyond. Too many of our Congressional "representatives" seem unwilling to listen to the views of their constituents, insisting that they already know it all. They respond to dissenters with name-calling, labeling them yahoos, Nazis, and tea baggers.
This is not democracy, where the will of the people is to prevail. This is elitist authoritarianism closer to the abuses we see in countries like Venezuela.
But there is a mechanism within our political system to deal with such a runaway Congress: the Right of Recall. Nine states already have laws on the books providing for Recall of members of Congress: Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin. These 9 states suffer 12 incumbent Senators who are members of the runaway Congressional majority not up for re-election in 2010.
For example, the New Jersey state constitution provides, "The people reserve unto themselves the power to recall, after at least one year of service, any elected official in this State or representing this State in the United States Congress. " Tea party activists in that state, in fact, have already filed to circulate recall petitions regarding Sen. Robert Menendez. But the former New Jersey Secretary of State took the position that such Recall of members of Congress is not authorized under the U.S. Constitution. Grassroots activists in Louisiana have similarly already filed for Recall of Senator Mary Landrieu, and the circulation of Recall petitions there has been authorized. Exercising this existing statutory Right of Recall in these 9 states could potentially reverse majority control in the Senate this year.
We saw this Recall process work in California in 2003, where the electorate became disgusted with the then recently re-elected Democrat Governor, Gray Davis. They voted overwhelmingly to remove him from office in a Recall election, and replaced him with current Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. A total of 18 states provide for Recall of elected state officials, including the above 9.
States without the Right of Recall for members of Congress can change their laws to adopt it. In states with the right to initiative, this can be done by a vote of the people after circulating petitions to put the change on the ballot.
What the current Congress is showing is that our representatives can no longer be trusted with 2-6 years in office without ongoing democratic accountability. Today's Congressional majority is threatening to dump a load of bad legislation on the country despite the public's opposition, daring us to try to clean it up later. Only a Right of Recall can prevent such abuses in the future.
The Right of Recall also counters the growing problem of voter fraud. If voters feel that an election was subject to too many irregularities in how it was conducted or in how the votes were counted, they can circulate Recall petitions for a new election, rather than waiting for the next scheduled election. Recall would also counter a growing problem of campaign fraud, where a candidate claims to be a reliable conservative on some or all issues, then goes to Congress and votes with the liberal Left. Such misrepresentation can be countered with a Recall election.
For these reasons, every state should adopt the Right of Recall for its voters. The constitutionality of Recall for members of Congress adopted under state law would ultimately have to be decided in the courts. Or the people could definitively decide the issue themselves through a constitutional amendment, or by electing a Congress that would adopt a federal statute authorizing each state to adopt such a Right of Recall.