12/06/2011 03:13 pm ET | Updated Feb 05, 2012

Michigan Senate GOP Legislators Move to Make Recalls Much More Difficult

According to a December 1, 2011 piece in the Chicago Tribune:

Less than a month after the rare recall of a state lawmaker, Republican leaders in the Michigan Senate proposed a constitutional amendment to limit the reasons for which an elected public official can be recalled. Michigan law now allows a recall to be attempted for just about any reason, including an elected official's policies and votes. The proposed amendment would limit a recall to reasons such as certain criminal convictions, official misconduct or misuse of public resources. An elected official could not be recalled for the 'discretionary performance of a lawful act or of a prescribed duty.'

Nineteen states allow the recalls of state officials. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states require specific grounds for recall -- the commission of a felony, ethics violations or incompetence, for instance.

In his October 18, 2011 piece "Recalls! Recalls! Recalls!" A2Politico contributor Chris Savage writes, "Since spring, nearly one-third of Michigan legislators have been targeted for recall -- 47 out of the total of 148 in office. It started when citizens, unhappy with what they saw as massive Republican overreach, launched recalls against 27 lawmakers."

In November, Republican Paul Scott was recalled, thanks in part to the efforts of the Michigan Education Association. Scott, Chair of the House Education Committee, infuriated MEA officials and the unions 150,000 members by voting to attack teacher tenure through a package of bills. StudentsFirst, a non-profit political lobbying group launched by former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, spent over $780,000 in 2011 lobbying Michigan legislators, including Scott, in support of the legislation. StudentsFirst was the organization that spent the most lobbying in Michigan in 2011, followed by Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI). On November 28, 2011 A2Politico revealed that GCSI, employed by half a dozen Washtenaw County entities, including the cities of Ann Arbor, and Ypsilanti, as well as Washtenaw County, has been spending money from those contracts wining and dining Washtenaw County's own state Senator, Rebekah Warren.

Warren, in fact, was the first Democratic Michigan legislator targeted for recall. The effort eventually failed when organizers could not get petition language approved. As of October 18, 2011 petition language had been approved for the recall of six Democratic legislators:

  • Lisa Brown (West Bloomfield)
  • Jim Townsend (Royal Oak)
  • Dian Slavens (Canton)
  • Phil Cavanagh (Redford Twp.)
  • Tim Bledsoe (Grosse Pointe Farms)
  • Brandon Dillon (Grand Rapids)
Angry voters targeted 20 Michigan Republicans for recall, including the Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. Michigan's Republican Governor was also targeted for recall, albeit unsuccessfully. Chris Savage writes:

As I have written before, the MDP's thumb-sitting stance on the recalls is in sharp contrast to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Indeed, this week, the DPW announced it was getting fully in the game.

This is it. This is history.

After weeks of discussion and positive collaboration with grassroots activists like you, today comes an historic announcement. In collaboration with United Wisconsin, the grassroots effort to recall Scott Walker will begin Nov. 15th.

It has become clearer than ever that the people of Wisconsin -- the traditions and institutions of our great state -- cannot endure any more of Scott Walker's abuses. To preserve Wisconsin, we must begin the recall of Walker as soon as possible.

We will never know if support from the MDP would have changed the tide in any of these recalls. What can be said is this: recalls in Michigan are difficult at best. Tremendous numbers of signatures must be gathered in an incredibly short period of time. Without the support, both financial and in terms of visibility, of the MDP or another large organization (labor unions, e.g.), their failure is nearly guaranteed. The MDP chose to keep its powder dry for the 2012 election, missing an enormous opportunity to be seen as active and aggressive at a time when Democrats across the state view them increasingly as anything but. Building some good will among Michigan Democrats a year before the elections would seem smart by most measures. But, for the Michigan Democratic Party, not so much.

Now, Michigan Senate Republicans want to tighten the rules so that a legislator's votes cannot be grounds for recall, as was the case with recalled legislator Paul Scott. Organizers of the Scott recall told the Trib, "They should have the right to try and boot a lawmaker from office early if they disagree with the lawmaker's policies. They say Michigan's current recall law gives voters recourse if officials adopt policies that voters weren't anticipating when they elected candidates during a regularly scheduled election."

According to my piece posted to the Huffington Post on November 21, 2011, a new report shows Michigan ranks in the top 10 among states in which state and local politicos ignore public opinion. Two professors who conducted the study uncovered what they refer to as a significant "democratic deficit," in Michigan. It's clear, then, that the Michigan residents who launched the recalls against the state's governor and legislators did not do so capriciously, but rather in response to a serious problem: ideology-based "fixes" being implemented by pols that do not reflect the opinions of the majority of the voters.

The proposed change in the recall rules appears to have support from both Republicans and Democrats in the Michigan legislature. However, changing Michigan's law will be tough. A constitutional amendment requires a final approval from Michigan voters, but the proposed changes must first be passed by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate. That the proposal comes less than a month after voters in Genesee County narrowly recalled state Republican state Representative Paul Scott from office for his education policy and budget votes, makes it clear that Michigan's elected officials are trying to protect themselves from the ire of voters who, according to the above-mentioned piece, have every reason to be hopping mad.