Bob Bernick, Utah Policy Contributing Editor
If you put a group of elected officials in a room and ask them if they want to be subject to a special recall election, what do you think they’ll say?
Yep, you guessed it.
A big ol’ “NO.”
Wednesday morning the Legislature’s Government Operations Interim Study Committee members were, well, less than enthusiastic about Rep. Lee Perry’s recall election idea.
Now, to Perry’s political acumen, he didn’t think his idea would go far.
In fact, he was backing away from it so fast one would think he’d walked into a room recently visited by a skunk.
Committee members didn’t take a vote on Perry’s recall idea.
They didn’t need to.
One after another member said that they agreed with “the group” that now is not the time for a recall election bill.
Of course not, you wouldn’t want to be seriously considering a recall election right in the middle of one of the biggest political messes in Utah history – whether or not to impeach newly-installed Attorney General John Swallow.
And in what has become the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde political life of Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, (Am a minority senator who wants to get along with the majority? Do I slam Republicans as a partisan party leader?) who is also the chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, Dabakis said: “We already have a recall, it is called an election.”
In other words, citizens faced with a top state official who has been dragged through the mud, reputation ruined, and effectiveness severely impacted, we just need to wait another three-and-a-half years until that person’s four-year term is up.
You can hear the committee debate here, the Legislature’s fine web site.
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, clearly speaking about a local Indian tribe, said he’s observed over the last 20 years how 100 signatures can be gathered and a recall election is called for one tribal leader or another, resulting in government stagnation and ineffectiveness.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he originally liked the idea of citizens being able to remove a misacting public official, but after watching the recall of Wisconsin Scott Walker and six state senators (Walker was not recalled) over just political issues, he now finds recalls detrimental to good governance.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, asked rhetorically what if a sitting legislator changed political parties while in office, what if he left a major religion in his area?
He could be recalled over inappropriate issues, which could lead to ineffectiveness for two or three years. “I struggle with the whole thing” of a recall election, said Jenkins.
Perry, R-Perry, said that he was exploring the recall issue at the request of a constituent.
He added that research shows that two Utah counties now have recall provisions – Morgan and Grand counties.
In the 1990s, state law allowed a county that was changing its form of government from county commission to county council/mayor to write into their new form of government laws a recall provision.
Apparently the Legislature – which is now seen disliking recalling elected officials – didn’t like that.
When in 2000 lawmakers redrew the forms of local governments cities and counties can adopt, lawmakers took out their ability to include recall elections.
Thus, even if a local government today wants to adopt recall provisions for their own officials, they couldn’t do it.
Perry suggested that perhaps, if any action on recalls are made, it would be to allow local governments to adopt recalls for their own officials.
It would remain up to state legislators to decide whether there would be a recall provision for governor, AG, or state treasurer or auditor, and a recall for the legislators themselves.
“I agree with the group” (the committee), said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake. “I see a value at times for recall. But I question whether we should do it.”