Recall (read:can) Blagojevich, Stroger and Daley
Like most uprisings, the Illinois/Cook County/Chicago tax revolt has started without anyone sending out a press release or making a formal proclamation.
Not in memory—mine, at least—have so many taxpayers here been so riled. Not in memory, have so many taxpayers here been hit with such a flood of proposed tax increases. Not in memory, have the demands for higher taxes come from a gaggle of such incompetent, ineffective or corrupt politicians—namely Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Cook County President Todd Stroger and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley (henceforth to be referred to here as BS&D
The signs of an impending march on the tyrants’ citadels surround us: Stroger’s office phone lines crammed with angry taxpayers. Liberal politicians and commentators jumping on the “we-re-taxed-out” bandwagon, without seeing the irony of their crabbing about the billion-dollar tax increases necessary to fund the government excesses that they have demanded.
They’re all asking: How much more money do they think they can wring out of us for their insider pals and contractors, for their padded payrolls, for their idiotic schemes? How stupid are they? How stupid do they think, that we are?
But this revolt will need more than a mob armed with pitchforks and muzzle-loading muskets charging City Hall, the County Building and the state Capital. This being Chicago and Illinois, the choice of effective weapons against entrenched, arrogant, moronic and corrupt tax hikers are scarce indeed. Chicago, Cook County and Illinois voters have been on the plantation for so long that they can’t imagine that they can make a difference. Our state and local pols think—with justification—that our memories are short between elections and that they are untouchable.
We institute the kind of populist reform that swept many parts of the country a century ago when government was,, as it is here today, in the grip of unresponsive, aloof politicians. Specifically, Illinois should create a process, called recall, that lets voters remove and replace public officials without having to wait for the next election.
Recall, along with the direct party primary, referendum and citizen initiative, were the tools turn-of-the-century Progressives used to can politicians who treated the citizenry as chattel. The reforms led to the direct elections of U.S. senators, a host of state officials and even judges. In Illinois, everything from the state controller to the coroner faced elections. However, about a half century ago, the appeal of direct democracy waned because an over-abundance of elected officials responding to the variety of conflicting of interests often stalled government action.
Still, populist reforms have survived in some parts of the country in its purer form, such as in California where voters bounced the inept Gov. Gray Davis in favor of the present chief executive Arnold Schwarzenegger. Admittedly, the California experience, with its excesses of voter initiatives and referendums is a strong argument against instituting the recall in Illinois.
But what stronger response can there be than BS&D themselves? Immediate removal from office is possibly the only message that these three men can understand. Recall is the ultimate weapon against graft, corruption, incompetence and the unquenchable thirst for higher taxes.
In Illinois, the movement for recall already has started. A constitutional amendment has been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would permit the recall of statewide-elected officials, members of the General Assembly, and supreme, appellate and circuit judges. The amendment also would allow the General Assembly to provide for the recall of local government and school district office-holders. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to include county officials, but that omission could be fixed.
A recall would be required to be held if a petition is signed by voters totaling at least 12 percent of the ballots cast in the prior election for the office. For legislators and judges, at least 20 percent of the last vote for office would be required. The recall election must be held from 60 to 80 days after the petitions are certified, but under certain circumstances could be held within 180 days if the recall is consolidated with the regular election. The ousted official would be replaced by the candidate who received a plurality of the vote.
Here’s the beauty of the recall: While the voter petition must state a reason for the recall, the “sufficiency” of reason can’t be challenged by government officials. In other words, it’s completely up to the voters to decide why the official should be removed. Recall differs from impeachment in that it does not require an unlawful act by the official, such as “high crimes or misdemeanors.” Nor does it require the kind of a circus trial faced by former President Bill Clinton.
Of course, the very suggestion that BS&D should be recalled immediately will be dismissed as impossibly naïve and unworkable. And perhaps it is, just as is virtually any proposal for replacing the existing regimes with honest, efficient government. Indeed, the proposed amendment has been assigned to committees in both houses, where they can be expected—without overwhelming public support—to die a lonely death.
Even if the amendment received the requisite three-fifths majority vote in each house, the battle would have only begun. To be enacted, the amendment would need to receive voter approval. A referendum would be scheduled for the next general election (another delaying tactic by entrenched politicians) and then would take effect only if approved by either three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the general election. Such a requirement is designed to make passage of an amendment even more difficult.
Even if a recall amendment miraculously gets through this grueling process, there’s another problem. Few recalls have been successful. In California, voters initiated 32 gubernatorial recalls before actually succeeding in nailing Davis in 2003. And only one other governor (Lynn J Frazier of North Dakota in 1921) has been recalled from office. Recalls against legislators are a little more common, but mostly recalls are used against local officials. For the record, 18 states and the District of Columbia permit the recall of state officials, including our neighbor, Wisconsin, where the Progressive movement got much of its start.
So, why bother?
Maybe a better question is: what else is there?
More than 400,000 signatures (the required 12 percent of the last gubernatorial election turnout) might be enough to awaken even BS&D with a bout of indigestion, even if just briefly to get up for a spoonful of Mylanta. It might even get them to think about the voters, for a change.
Just the process alone, no matter how bad its chances of success are, might be worthwhile. Think of the fun of watching politicians waffle when they are pinned down on whether they would give voters a chance to remove non-responsive politicians. Think of the laughs we’d get as the weasels try to explain why giving voters the chance to ax the crooks and morons is a bad idea.
Until someone comes up with a better idea that would do at least as much as to make the pols squirm, work on a recall amendment should begin urgently. The only other thing I can suggest is a referendum that would prohibit any Illinois municipality or jurisdiction from hosting the Olympic Games.
Dennis Byrne is a regular columnist for The Chicago Daily Observer and a member of its editorial board.