Friday, October 22, 2010

Voting “NO” on recall is vote in defense of democracy

By John Bachtell

It’s been nearly two years since then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached by the state senate on accusations of corruption and abuse of power, including allegations of trying to sell President Barack Obama’s US Senate seat.

During the impeachment proceedings none of the allegations had been proven in a court of law, although in the recently concluded trial Blagojevich was convicted on one charge, perjury to an FBI official.

Blagojevich will be the 3rd Illinois governor to go to jail for corruption.

But while the hullabaloo around removing Blagojevich has died down, one of the byproducts of the uproar is a measure on November’s ballot to amend the state constitution to allow for recall of a governor by voters.

Proponents say it’s an added check and balance. Sounds democratic, but is it really?

The proposed amendment to Section 7 of Article III sets up the following procedure: The first step would be an affidavit filed with the State Board of Elections announcing intent to seek a recall. That affidavit needs endorsements from 20 state representatives and 10 state senators — no more than half from the same political party in each group.

After the affidavit is in, there are 150 days to circulate the petition. The number of signatures must equal 15 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election — close to 520,000 signatures, based on the 2006 race — and must have names from at least 25 counties.

The recall special election would happen within 100 days of certification of the petition. If the governor is recalled, another special election would be held to elect a new governor.

Aside from the cost of recall, which according to the Secretary of State would run at least $100 million, the bigger question is the ability of powerful interests to overturn the will of the majority and depose elected officials who may come in conflict with corporate and right wing interests. They could embroil state politics in internal wrangling for years.

The best example of this is the experience in California. Remember that Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was reelected in 2002 with the broad support of labor, and the Mexican American and African American communities and women. A lot of progressive legislation was passed by the Democratic controlled California General Assembly during his tenure.

But with the state in the throws of an economic crisis, with Enron manufacturing an energy crisis after Republican Gov. Pete Wilson led the way with deregulation, Gray’s popularity flagged. Right wing and corporate interests used the crisis and resulting widespread anger to undo the progressive changes.

The Republican right wing and corporate interests launched a massively funded recall campaign in 2003, hiring signature gatherers, including from out of state. Backed by a corporate media chorus, they succeeded in what amounted to a coup and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor in a special election.

Whatever one thinks about Blagojevich’s fate, he was impeached by the state legislature because a procedure for his removal is written into the state constitution.

Voters in fact have the right of recall and they can exercise it during a regularly scheduled election every four years. That’s the proper place to settle these matters.

Under normal circumstances, recall might not be a bad idea. But these are anything but normal times. The danger to democracy, of subverting and bypassing the electoral system, despite its many flaws, has increased because of the unrestrained and unaccounted for corporate money flooding the 2010 elections as a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.

A no vote on the proposed constitutional amendment will be a vote in defense of democracy at this moment.

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