The biggest winner in last week’s historic recall election in California was not Arnold Schwarzenegger, but rather the citizens of California. Millions of California voters have exercised their right to remove an incompetent and corrupt governor. Three cheers for democracy. The scandal is that less than half the states give voters the right to recall their elected officials. We think this should be made a basic right of voters in all states and at the federal level. Recall is the ultimate voter safeguard to keep politicians honest and accountable.
This isn’t the way the Left sees it at all. The Los Angeles Times
argued that the recall was “baldly partisan, threatens political civility that allows democracy to work, has become a circus that mocks the electoral process, and is inherently undemocratic.” But what in the world is undemocratic about a citizen-driven movement (two million Californians signed petitions for the recall) that engaged and energized voters across the state?
Why should politicians be “entitled” to a full four years in office if they are not performing? If corporate CEOs run their business into the ground, they don’t get to stay in their job for a term in office. It would be a breach of fiduciary duty of a board not to depose an incompetent CEO. Well, Gray Davis was the de facto CEO of California, the sixth-largest financial entity in the world. The economy cratered. The voters had a fiduciary duty to oust Davis as they did.
One group called Republicans Against the Recall complained that the recall is a “weapon of mass political destruction. The recall will set a terrible precedent. Soon labor unions and environmentalists will be trying to recall Republicans.” Good. Many Republicans should be recalled from office. In Nevada, voters are attempting to recall their Republican governor, Kenny Guinn, for raising taxes after he had promised not to. Good move. Recalls are the ultimate shock therapy that empowers voters to impose discipline and accountability on politicians. We need more such mechanisms, not fewer.
The recall procedure is a political reform that came out of the progressive era of American politics. It was designed to wrestle control of the political process away from entrenched special interests and politicians who had been bought off by them. But now commentators want the politicians to be immune from voter disapproval. David Broder of the Washington Post recently moaned that “The recall is the byproduct of almost everything that has gone wrong in our political system. Partisan excess, rampant personal ambition, dereliction of leadership, media inattention, phony populism, and, as usual, the influence of money all are part of this nearly unprecedented perversion of representative government.” How in the world is what occurred in California, “phony populism?” For years and years liberals political analysts like Mr. Broder have been bemoaning voter apathy and disengagement from politics. Here millions of voters mobilized in record numbers in California to change the way their government is being operated, and the exercise is being denounced as a circus. No wonder voters are cynical.
Today only 15 states allow citizens to recall their politicians for incompetence, criminal behavior, or other misdeeds in office. This allows the voters to rebel peacefully against political arrogance and misconduct. This is a commonsense voter disciplining measure to keep the politicians accountable to the people who put them in office. The nation needs more such mechanisms to ensure accountability, not fewer.
We believe that that every state should have empower their citizens with three basic rights as voters: referendum, initiative, and recall. These measures each put power into the hands of voters at a time when politicians, bought off by trial lawyers, unions, or business interests, refuse to put the public interest first.
We also favor a constitutional amendment to permit voters in states and congressional districts to recall their congressional representatives in Washington. That would make congressmen stop and think before they run $500 billion budget deficits, vote themselves preposterous pay raises, kite checks from the congressional bank, and engage in other acts of mischief.
Thomas Jefferson had it exactly right when he once declared: “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” That is what happened in California. With a bigger budget deficit than all the other 49 states combined, the political system in Sacramento needed a good shake up. Too bad so few states allow this peaceful form of rebellion to take place through the power of recall.
–Stephen Moore is president of the Club for Growth. Paul Jacob is president of Citizens in Charge, which promotes the voter referendum and initiative process.