September 10, 2011 at 9:23 pm #141012
From the president through governors and senators and down to mayors, should elected officials be recalled?
Why or why not?
September 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm #141056
When a governance system uses fixed election dates, there needs to be some mechanism to impose maintenance of the level of performance, and adherence to the platform, that was promised by the elected individual. At the same time, as I keep ranting about, instability of senior leadership is the bane of the public sector.
Now there are MANY sources of “instability at the top” beyond elected officials, but more of it doesn’t improve things. So, I have a bias towards letting elected people stay in place where possible or advisable, so as to avoid instability. Obviously there is the risk that elected people either do something irrevocably stupid (and possible criminal), or become ill and/or die. But there is that grey zone between an elected individual being unavailable for duty or behaving in a way that compromises the integrity of the entire institution, and being a shining superlative example of democracy at its finest.
More bluntly, mediocrity is in the eye of the beholder, and in any event is no reason to jeopardize the stability of government. More importantly, we have a hard enough time keeping elected officials from knee-jerk reactions to any and every criticism or endorsement in the press as it is, and have an even harder time agreeing on what it is about their performance that may be considered insufficient, inexcusable, or unavoidable in the circumstances. As such, the notion that the thread holding the sword over their heads be made thinner just strikes me as making for very bad governance.
The question is: what sort of “corrective mechanisms” does that leave us with, and are they sufficient to do the job? I’m not saying they are or aren’t, but it is a question that merits pondering now and then, if only to remind ourselves of those mechanisms.
September 11, 2011 at 2:56 pm #141054
That’s hardly an answer to the question, Mark. If mediocrity is in the eye of the beholder and if a mechanism needs to be in place, those two thoughts conflict with each other.
September 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm #141052
When the elected official has been proven to have committed a crime, I believe there should be a mechanism for recall.
But I’m less certain that we should recall if we find out they are just completely irresponsible and guilty of complete nonperformance. I definitely understand the damage that is done due to nonperformance & irresponsibility and know it is not insignificant – in many cases it is devastating. But the voters do elect the person they want to run their community. And should they have a right to change their minds because they made a terrible choice? Probably not, if we are not willing to give up our idea of democracy.
Instead of trying to figure out how to recall officials and alter our democratic process, maybe we should help people figure out how to make sure they elect someone good to begin with. We should emphasize the need to choose wisely and vote. But because so many do not vote, we often end up suffering due to the choice of the majority which is actually a minority of the population. (This also happens everyday because only the vocal minority are bending the ear of our politicians so the average person who is part of the silent majority sees a lot of legislation and thinks, why in the world are they passing that?)
I’d rather see us asking, should we have job requirements in place for someone to run for elected office? (Which I realize is also a potentially volatile topic and possibly not in line with our idea of a democracy.)
September 11, 2011 at 8:12 pm #141050
“Should elected officials be recalled” is too vague a question, Ari. I almost took it for a blanket recall of all incumbents everywhere.
Should there be a mechanism to remove an official if the situation warrants it? Yes. Usually whatever governing body responsible has specified a process for this beforehand. If you don’t allow for a civilized method, the more excitable among us may exercise what folks in Louisiana call “.45 caliber recall”. I think we’ve all had enough of that lately…
@Pam, No I don’t think that having job requirements for someone to run for elected office is out of place in our democracy. Doctors, lawyers, even bus drivers have to pass a test before they can practice their trade. I think a basic understanding of at least macroeconomics, civics, and US and world history be required. It seems now that any idiot can run for president. Not denying office on the grounds of race, creed, and color are fine, but I hold the line on ABILITY.
September 11, 2011 at 9:50 pm #141048
As wrong as the restrictions were that our founding fathers built into the political system for voting & holding office, I’ve always wondered what impact that had on who ended up in office. Obviously now, we’ve set up our country so that everyone has the opportunity to get the education needed to be able to vote and hold office. But back in the late 1700s perhaps they believed those who were not white, male, and held land could not be relied upon to make the right decision in voting/holding office because they probably would not have an education. So, I do agree with you that for it to work right, education is the key.
But are we ready as a country to put in place educational requirements for holding elected office? I imagine people will argue against it saying that not everyone does have the same educational opportunities and therefore the requirement would be discriminatory. It almost seems that we are being forced to choose between our desire to give everyone equal opportunity regardless of their personal responsibility to adequately prepare for the position and our need to set in place requirements that ensure our government is run with people who have the necessary education.
September 12, 2011 at 1:15 am #141046
They don’t conflict at all, in my view. Rather, what they argue for is corrective mechanisms that aren’t exercised too frequently, or too easily, simply because the cure can be worse than the ailment.
I doubt whether there has ever been a president, senator, congressman, or mayor who has NOT been perceived as mediocre by a substantial portion of the electorate during their term – both those that voted against the individual and those that voted for them but were disappointed in how things have progressed since then. At what point in their term should they be susceptible to recall (e.g., no recall prior to 200 days into a term, and no recall within 200 days of the next fixed-term election?), and what sort of performance criteria ought to trigger it? Who should have the latitude to instigate it? Should it simply be a petition with some minimum number of names? Should we let the stupid blind populism, and the misrepresentation and spinning of events that is facilitated by the net, drive our governance? Should Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart determine who gets to complete their term and who doesn’t?
I was thinking about this today, and the way I framed it to myself is that having a system that makes it easy to fire employees, but provides a less-than-adequate way to attract and hire good people is not really any way to run an organization, private or public. The only thing it will assure is that you attract people who deserve to be fired.
If anything, being stuck with mediocre performers for the full extent of their term ought to be the Damocles sword that dangles over the head of voters and party members so that they make wiser choices.
Having said that, under the Westminster system used in British Commonwealth countries like Canada, there is the non-confidence vote mechanism. Of course, because the prime minister (or premier in the case of provincial legislatures) is not voted for separately, that mechanism can terminate governments but plays absolutely no role in the term duration of individual elected representatives. It goes without saying that the non-confidence vote mechanism has no real weight unless there is a minority government, something which doesn’t occur every election, and is unlikely to occur in a two-party system.
In our system, the cabinet is generally (though not absolutely required to be) comprised of elected representatives. Since one’s roster of candidates prior to an election cannot be planned out as “I need this one for the environment, that one for transportation, that other one for labour, and that other one for foreign affairs”, the winning party forms their cabinet with whatever talent they manage to get onto the bench. It happens that member X gets a cabinet position and either does a crappy job, or finds themselves embroiled in a controversy that requires a “house-cleaning” to restore confidence in the government. The individual may be moved to another cabinet post – perhaps a junior one or simply a fresh start in another post of equivalent status – or may simply go back to being a back-bencher. But they do not lose their elected seat.
Finally, individuals can be a great disappointment to voters, but one would hope the overall system is capable of carrying the ball in spite of individual poor performers. I’m not a big one for the great man/woman hypothesis.
Ironically, and completely by chance, I had coffee on Friday with the former senior policy advisor for the former leader of the opposition – an extremely capable man who was surprisingly trounced in our May federal election, and went back into academia. Naturally, his former advisor is now pondering what his next career move will be. When you see good capable people go down in flames, and horse’s arses get re-elected again and again, you’re not eager to endorse recall mechanisms.
September 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm #141044
It’s hard to say…I agree with Pam, the impeachment process is important to identify that even elected officials are not above the law. However, I do think that there is an argument to be made about removal from office due to complete inability to manage – especially when it comes to an elected administrator.
I lived in California in 2003 when the rumblings began about Gray Davis. Was it really fair that he got recalled? Hard to say, but it was clear that California voters did not want him as their Governor anymore. Scott Walker is now in a similar situation. Is this fair? Maybe, maybe not. But its legal not easy to accomplish, and so if Walker’s opponents are successful in removing him from office – well maybe it is for the best.
September 12, 2011 at 12:41 pm #141042
Recall would be great if you could get enough people to even care about such a thing. I am reminded of Arkansas governor being elected by threatening tax increases on senior citizen retirement benefits to make up the difference if tax on food products in Arkansas was repealed. The day after the election and with the senior citizen block firmly dropping the food tax he announced that he would still need to tax the retirement benefits. Saying something to get elected and then immediately upon being elected doing a total 180 degree turn should make for a mandatory recall of that official.
September 12, 2011 at 1:27 pm #141040
I think part of the problem with folks being elected and then hated is our election process. It has become a dog and pony show. Some guy might make the best leader, but if he is short, fat, bald, and has a stutter, he is a total non-starter. Meanwhile the tall, handsome, dark-haired guy with the well modulated voice who can read his lines well off the teleprompter easily gets elected, all without a clue. Really, our whole televised process is little better than the elections we had when we were schoolchildren with the popular kids always winning. Thus, “buyer’s remorse” often sets in. This is why we need an orderly recall process. Of course having better educated voters as well as better educated candidates would help…
September 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm #141038
Im from Wisconsin, my hometown just recalled our State Senator (who turned out to be living with a mistress outside of his district) and elected a local lawyer. The recall effort was led by the locals who were out every single day gathering signatures, the community really came together and decided this was something they wanted. So far they seem happy with the job the new State Senator is doing. On a recent visit I was bombarded with print, radio, and tv ad’s counting down the days until they can start gathering signatures to recall the governor. Being able to recall elected officials who do not keep their constituents best interest in mind is an American right.
September 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm #141036
There needs to be some sort of checks and balances. How about the senators that don’t pay their income taxes for years? or who are notorious drunk drivers? Do we want someone that irresponsible running the country? Well, we have them. And even when they get caught many high ranking officials simply get a slap on the wrist and go about their business.
Having mandatory education minimums sounds nice, but it is discriminatory in that, as colleges get more and more and more expensive, only the wealthy would stand a chance to get elected. And, in my opinion, that’s already part of the problem with what we have now, too many rich people buying political office with ad campaigns that lack the common sense and real world know how to run anything.
I do think our elected and appointed officials need some sort of review process or accountibility. There is nothing right now and what we often seem to end up with his ‘he who covers up his/her mistakes the best remains in office’.
September 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm #141034
Well that’s just it. The criteria have to be spelled out very clearly, and also have to be reliably identifiable. They also have to be subject to the same degree of rigor and separation as things like BFORs and disabilities. In other words, voters should accommodate to the point (but not past) of “undue hardship” too, in a way that is adapted to the role that elected officials have the basis for termination MUST be connectable and connected to job performance, and not just things you don’t like about them (and here I think about cases where individuals have been fired for not being heterosexual).
I remember a wonderful interview with actor Donald Sutherland in a 1998 issue of Premiere magazine, in which he contrasted the manner in which private lives of elected officials were treated in France (where he was living at the time) and the U.S.. In response to the Lewinsky affair, he noted wryly “I can’t believe the U.S. government is about to be brought down by a b**wjob”.
I am not dismissing concerns about morality and ethical lapses of elected officials, but apart from breaking the law, it can be an extremely slippery slope when one starts to consider dismissal (or recall) on the basis of what one segment of the the community deems to be a moral lapse.
In such instances, though, often no recall mechanism is needed. Should the moral lapse be obvious and aggregious enough that it undermines the elected individual’s ability to simply do their job, voluntary resignation often occurs (e.g., Elliot Spitzer). Of course, in the world of media spin, it can be anybody’s guess as to whether the depictions of elected officials that rub us so hard and fervently the wrong way are accurate, partisan, or merely sensationalistic for commercial reasons.
September 12, 2011 at 7:43 pm #141032
I think it’s interesting that Ed brought up looks – I always joke with my husband that I can tell right after the primary who will be president because it has always seemed to be the best looking one, or at least the one that fits society’s image of what is considered best looking. And Ed’s right, and I’m sure everyone would agree, that looks has absolutely nothing to do with who can do the best job.
September 12, 2011 at 8:38 pm #141030
I think it’s a combo of looks, but also who’s better at smearing the competition and capturing the buzz words. Rarely do any of these candidates, any more, say ‘here’s what i’m going to do and how’, it’s buzz phrase after buzz phrase, vague promises amongst a rhetoric of ‘this is how much my competitor sucks and what s/he’s doing wrong’
I think that’s what makes you want there to be some sort of real minimum requirement or specified performance level. Those of us in far less important positions have to prove our worthiness to hold them while those making vital decisions about our government really don’t seem to have to prove much about their worthiness beyond what their campaign manager wants to say about them or how much they want to tear down the ‘other guy’
September 12, 2011 at 9:04 pm #141028
Which is precisely what prompted my rather caustic comment earlier that maybe voters should be forced to tolerate the full term of people they elect on those sorts of rather specious bases.
Ideally, what we are looking for is not an efficient means of correcting our collective mistakes as voters, but rather the sort of motives and encouragement to vote in a manner that fosters fewer mistakes from the get-go, right?
Voters should be just as accountable as those they elect.
Years ago I was working in a medical research facility. There were a lot of dogs used there, for things you really don’t want to hear/know about. They were generally those breeds that people thought were so adorable when they were puppies, and then eventually abandoned to animal shelters when the animal turned out to be a bigger handful than they had imagined; St. Bernards, Irish Setters, and the like. I remember well at the time there was some proposition in California to make it illegal for animal shelters to sell or otherwise offer unadopted animals for medical research. My reaction to it was that if people knew there was every likelihood their former pet would end up being used in such research, or euthanized, then maybe they’d act more responsibly when deciding to get a pet in the first place. The animal should not have to pay for the superficiality of the owner’s judgment.
Same thing with elected officials. Don’t treat recall mechanisms like the animal shelter that will provide a convenient escape clause for what was an under-thought choice in the first place. Unless the official has clearly broken the law, or voluntarily steps down, be prepared to live with them for their full term, and smarten up for the next time.
September 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm #141026
Patricia A. O’MalleyParticipant
Are you asking whether we should recall specific officials, or all officials, or whether it should be possible at all?
September 13, 2011 at 2:31 am #141024
Impeachment is different than recall, Paul. Two different processes.
September 13, 2011 at 2:32 am #141022
However you want to interpret my question is the question I am asking!
While the spark is in local government, any level is apropos if it scales.
September 13, 2011 at 3:37 am #141020
If we can’t assure ourselves as voters of a candidate’s qualifications for the job by demanding they pass a test ( I have visions of both parties stealing copies of the test and cramming the answers into their vacuous nominees — like something out of ANIMAL HOUSE), then we should have stricter job requirements, like having no unpaid fines or taxes, outstanding warrants, etc. Reasons for removal from office should be spelled out too. “High crimes and misdemeanors” just doesn’t cut it.
September 13, 2011 at 9:26 pm #141018
I just saw this on the Small Water Supply newsletter and thought of this thread – the law in Missouri was changed so that although anyone can obviously serve on the water board, they don’t get paid unless they take so many hours of certain classes. So maybe that’s the change – let anyone in but then their pay is tied to at least the training they take and perhaps even their performance. Here’s a copy of the requirement:
Effective on August 28, 2011, several new laws went into effect in the state of Missouri. One new law has particular interest for Public Water Supply Districts. Chapter 247.060 was amended and now reads in part:
5. Each member of the board may receive an attendance fee not to exceed one hundred dollars for attending each regularly called board meeting, or special meeting, but shall not be paid for attending more than two meetings in any calendar month, except that in a county of the first classification, a member shall not be paid for attending more than four meetings in any calendar month. However, no board member shall be paid more than one attendance fee if such member attends more than one board meeting in a calendar week. In addition, the president of the board of directors may receive fifty dollars for attending each regularly or specially called board meeting, but shall not be paid the additional fee for attending more than two meetings in any calendar month. Each member of the board shall be reimbursed for his or her actual expenditures in the performance of his or her duties on behalf of the district.
6. In no event, however, shall a board member receive any attendance fees or additional compensation authorized in subsection 5 of this section until after such board member has completed a minimum of six hours training regarding the responsibilities of the board and its members concerning the basics of water treatment and distribution, budgeting and rates, water utility planning, the funding of capital improvements, the understanding of water utility financial statements, the Missouri sunshine law, and this chapter
September 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm #141016
September 16, 2011 at 9:21 pm #141014
Biased question, Allison. There are no commentary so who knows if they refer to President Obama or their local mayor.
Also curious statistics that a mere 13 people responded when gazillions more are friends of that page.
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