Wednesday, January 3, 2018
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Will Change in Recall Rules Protect Predaceous Politicians?
By JON COUPAL
Compared to citizens of other states, Californians are pretty laid back. But while Californians may have a reputation for being “chill,” in the political realm, they can act with surprising intensity and speed.
In 2003, when newly re-elected Gov. Gray Davis revealed that the budget was in much worse shape than he had admitted and announced a sharp hike in the car tax, Californians signed recall petitions at such a rapid pace that the recall qualified for the ballot on July 23. The election was held on October 7, and a new governor was sworn in on November 17.
Fast forward to, 2017. On April 6th, state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, cast the deciding vote to pass Senate Bill 1, a $5.2 billion annual increase in the gas and car tax. A recall effort was launched against him, and by the end of June, more than 80,000 voters in Senate District 29 had signed petitions to recall him. Only 63,593 signatures were needed to qualify the recall for the ballot.
Failing to learn the lessons of the past, the Legislature and the governor decided to change the rules for recall elections, enacting SB96 as a last-minute budget “trailer” bill. (Trailer bills are supposed to be “budget related” but that’s another legislative abuse).
SB96 included new rules to slow down the recall and removal process that the state constitution and accompanying statutes had made speedy and immediate. The law required the verification of every signature, instead of a random sample. A new waiting period was added to allow petition signers to consider whether they wanted to withdraw their signatures. The law added a new requirement for an analysis of the cost of the recall election, along with a review of the cost by the legislature. And the law applied the new rules retroactively to any recall efforts that were underway at the time.
Where the previous rules had strict time limits to ensure a speedy election, allowing voters to immediately remove a state official from office, the new rules made the time period for recalls not only longer, but indefinite.
The law prohibits the secretary of state from certifying the recall petition until the governor’s Department of Finance and the Legislature have had an opportunity to estimate and examine the costs of a recall election. There’s no time limit to complete the cost estimate, effectively allowing an endless delay. That’s on top of the extra 40 working days that the law added for petition signers to consider withdrawing their signatures.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued to get SB96 overturned as unconstitutional, and a judge agreed, preventing the law from taking effect. But again our clueless Legislature rushed to pass a new law, SB117, that worked around the judge’s objections and reinstated the lengthy and costly new recall procedures.
As a result, voters have effectively lost the right to recall elected officials, just when they need it most.
It seems that every day brings new allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct by lawmakers in Sacramento. The Assembly Rules Committee’s chief administrative officer, Debra Gravert, told Capitol Weekly that outside law firms are conducting seven investigations, and Senate Leader Kevin de León’s office confirmed two investigations on the Senate side.
Voters may not be happy with Sacramento’s system of protecting lawmakers. It starts with a byzantine process that discourages victims from reporting incidents, and then, when misconduct becomes public, hides the facts behind a cloak of attorney-client privilege. And voters may not want to wait around for lawmakers to decide when they feel like resigning.
But under the new recall rules passed to protect Josh Newman from the rage of voters in his district, sexual harassers are likely to have a free ride, at taxpayer expense, all the way until the next regularly scheduled election.
In twice changing the recall rules to protect one tax-loving politician, the Legislature and governor have not only revealed their disdain for the tools of direct democracy but they have made it easier for abusive and predaceous politicians to escape the wrath of voters.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company