Friday, August 15, 2003

Political Employment at Will-I haven't, that I recall, talked about the recall process and whether it's a good idea. Some conservative commentators (this Howard Owens piece was on the viewer at the moment) have argued that recalls move us away from representative democracy and towards mob rule. Others have argued that mere incompetence isn't enough to warrant a recall. What a recall system does is to change the terms of a politician’s employment from a term contract to employment at will. Most conservatives would agree that, barring a contract that states a time-frame, that employers should be able to fire their employees if they aren't doing their job or if fewer workers are needed. When we elect a politician in a recall-enabled state, they have a two or four-year term of office, conditional on not being recalled. If the voters of the state are sufficiently POed at the official's performance, they can replace him. This is the political version of employment at will. My mind goes back twenty years to Michigan. A recall attempt was made to oust Gov. Blanchard, who had reneged on a no-tax-hike pledge he made in the 1982 campaign. They failed to get enough signatures to put Blanchard up to a recall vote, but they did recall two Democratic state senators who voted for the tax package. The resulting Republican pick ups gave them control of the senate and introduced us to the new Senate majority leader, a guy from Mount Pleasant named John Engler. That was a case where a recall effort had a conservative (political) effect, starting a lean to the right in Michigan politics. If the California election goes according to plan, we'll replace a liberal Democrat with a centrist (on balance) Republican, that too would be a net plus. This comes far from mob rule, for it takes a large petition campaign to get a recall on the ballot and a majority of the voters to effect a recall. The no-runoff process for the replacement election is badly flawed and needs to be changed, but that doesn't make it undemocratic. The thing I fear about the recall here is that you could be in constant recall mode. Let's say that Ahnold has to make a tough decision in February 2004 and ticks a few people off; the left then gets their 10% petition out and tries to terminate the Terminator; by next June, we now have Governor Feinstein. The right then gets yet another recall effort done after Governor Feinstein butchers the budget process, giving us Governor Simon in the winter of 2005. Recalls are supposed to be rare beasts. So were filibusters. If the left can get as ornery and as organized as the right, we could see that constant recall mode happen. However, as long as the procedures on the books, we should use it as a political tool. Conservatives conserve the things that make the country function well. The Gray Gentleman ain't one of them.

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