Column: Illinois’ Recall Amendment: Holding Politicians Accountable Only if they Say it is OK

On September 9, 2010, in Columns, Illinois, Law / Legal Issues, Politics, by John Bambenek ..

The following will appear in papers throughout Illinois this weekend or next weekend.

The ability of voters to recall corrupt or ineffective governors was a hot topic in the days after the arrest of Rod Blagojevich. Voters will get the chance to adopt an amendment that purports to give citizens this right. I support recall. The public needs a means to fire public servants who no longer serve the public. However, I will be voting no on the recall amendment in November. The reason is simple; this amendment is a sham.

In order for citizens to initiate a recall election, they need to collect about 550,000 signatures from voters in 150 days (15% of the number of votes in the last governor election). In reality, it should be double that to deal with the inevitable signature challenges and court fight to throw out signatures. That, however, isn’t the worst provision.

Before a single signature can be gathered, an affidavit signed by at least 20 State Representatives (10 Republicans, 10 Democrats) and at least 10 State Senators (5 Republicans, 5 Democrats) needs to be filed with the Secretary of State. You see, in Illinois politicians will let you hold them accountable only when they think it is ok.

To show you how absurd this is we can examine the lay of the land during the Blagojevich administration to see if this recall would have worked. After Rod was arrested, every legislator was stumbling over themselves to impeach the governor and they did it far faster than 150 days.

Before he was arrested, however, you would have been hard pressed to get 10 Democratic State Representatives to sign an affidavit for a recall. You most certainly would not have gotten 5 Democratic State Senators. You might not even get the Republicans.

Gathering over a million signatures is no easy prospect with no assurance of being successful. During the time a recall petition was undertaken, those legislators would be exposed to every manner of retaliation at the disposal of the governor’s office. You would have to get 30 state legislators, many of whom epitomize the definition of timidity, to stick their necks out on a difficult process that may not be successful.

In short, this recall amendment would have been useless to get rid of Rod Blagojevich. If we couldn’t have recalled Rod with it, what good is it?

Adding the legislator affidavit was a “compromise” because politicians were afraid that voters might actually avail themselves of the recall process for reasons they did not deem valid. To put it another way, politicians felt the affidavit provided an “important” check and balance against citizen action. You read that correctly; our Illinois politicians are so afraid of citizen action they introduced a constitutional amendment to actually check the power of the voters and subject it to their discretion.

What makes this an even more laughable position is that the recall amendment can only be used against the governor. Of the 18 states that already have this process (with some states having it over a century) it has only led to recall elections twice against a governor. In one case, the governor was impeached before the recall. The latest instance was Gray Davis in California who was equally a disgrace. Illinois will be the only state to have recall that is subject to the discretion of the state legislature.

I believe in recall, it is an important tool to hold politicians accountable but this recall amendment is a sham and a disgrace. It was designed to give voters the appearance of reform. By the time we come around to actually try to use it, we will discover the con job too late. Join me in November in voting no on this preposterous amendment so we can push for a real recall amendment and real accountability in Springfield… accountability not requiring us to get a permission slip from our legislators to use.

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