Voters in six Wisconsin legislative districts decide today whether to recall six Republicans who took part in efforts to reduce public employee collective bargaining rights. Next week, voters in three more districts will take action against Democrats who fled the state to stall action.
If successful in regaining the state Senate via the recall, Democrats there have pledged to attempt a recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker next year.
Nine recalls in one years sounds like a lot because it is. The New York Times reports this morning that since the recall power was established in 1926, only four actions have been taken against elected officials and just two of those have been successful.
Washington voters have had recall power since 1912 and I couldn’t find any historical data on its use. My memory, aided by Secretary of State spokesman (and longtime Associated Press newsman) David Ammons suggests it is nearly as rare here as in Wisconsin. That is at least the case for state elected officials. We could come up with just one – the failed recall of then-state Sen. Peter von Reichbauer in 1981.
Local governments, which had lower vote totals and therefore a lower number required for a recall vote, used the power more often with the most-sweeping coming in Tacoma in 1970 when a majority of city council was recalled. Gov. Dan Evans had to appoint one councilman simply to establish a quorum so the survivors could appoint the rest.
One reason for the rarity is the threshold is high – petitioners must gather signatures equal to 25 percent of the voters who voted in the last election for the office in question. Then, in 1984, the Legislature made it even tougher by requiring a judge to decide that the charges raised sufficiently show misfeasance or malfeasance in office or that the elected official violated an oath of office.
While there were few recalls before that, there have been hardly any since – a handful from local governments plus the recall of Spokane Mayor Jim West in 2005.
“I can’t remember that any state official has been recalled and it seems to be used or threatened more often at the local level where passions seem to run higher,” Ammons said.
So if the recall effort of Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam is successful this year, it will not only be rare but be in by far the largest political jurisdiction to have a successful recall since the law was changed.