LANSING (AP) – An effort to kick a state lawmaker from Genesee County out of office because of his voting record and policies has fueled debate about whether the standards required to initiate a recall effort in Michigan should be changed.
Rep. Paul Scott, a Republican from Grand Blanc, will try to defeat a recall attempt backed by the state’s largest teachers union when voters go to the polls Tuesday.
The chairman of the House Education Committee is the first state lawmaker to face a recall election since 2008, when then-House Speaker Andy Dillon survived an effort to remove him from office. Michigan voters haven’t opted to recall a state lawmaker and end a term early since 1983.
But recall threats are becoming more common, in part because Michigan law allows a recall attempt to be launched on virtually any grounds, including a target’s politics. Roughly 30 percent of Michigan’s 147 state lawmakers, mostly Republicans but also some Democrats, have faced some level of a recall campaign targeting them less than a year into their current terms.
The vast majority of recall efforts fizzle before they collect enough voter signatures to reach the election stage, and Scott is the only one on the November ballot. But a few other state lawmakers could find themselves facing recalls in 2012 if the current efforts targeting them gain momentum.
Some politicians and organizations say now is the time to examine whether Michigan should adopt more specific criteria related to recall attempts, such as allowing them only in cases of criminal or ethical wrongdoing.
“The whole topic of recalls, I think, has gotten out of perspective on both sides,” said Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, a Scott supporter who himself became the target of a now-stalled recall effort just a few months into his term. “As a practical matter, I think there are better uses for our time than to spend a lot of time on recalls.”
Some key Democrats, including House Democratic Leader Richard Hammel, also appear open to some sort of bipartisan recall reform.
Most states don’t have a mechanism to recall a state lawmaker. Voters in those states must wait until regularly scheduled elections to cast judgment on an incumbent lawmaker.
Nineteen states permit the recalls of state officials, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Specific grounds for recall – such as the commission of a felony, ethics violations or incompetence – are required in eight of those states. In many of the others, including Michigan, a lawmaker can be targeted for recall for any reason or simply because an opponent disagrees with a lawmaker’s politics.
That’s why Scott is targeted by the Michigan Education Association, which has spent at least $140,000 on the effort to oust him from office. The MEA is opposed to Scott’s measures that weaken the significance of teacher tenure in the state. Scott also has drawn criticism for votes that cut education funding and change the state’s business and income tax laws.
Scott’s voting record isn’t much different from any of the state Legislature’s 88 other Republicans. But critics hope to make an example of him on Tuesday.
Gary Carnahan, a retired teacher who helped spark the recall effort targeting Scott, says voters should have the right to try to boot a lawmaker from office if they disagree with the lawmaker’s policies. That gives voters recourse, he said, if lawmakers adopt policies that voters weren’t anticipating when they elected candidates during a regularly scheduled election.
“It’s constitutionally guaranteed, and I think the reasons for that are exemplified by this campaign,” Carnahan said. “There was no indication of this kind of radical, sweeping right-wing agenda. I think when that happens, people have the right to say, `That’s not what I voted for.”‘
Like most Republicans, Scott says he’s simply doing what the majority of voters elected him to do last year: make tough decisions about the state budget while trying to create a better long-term climate for job creation and education. Scott says that despite declining public school student enrollment in his legislative district, the overall number of teachers increased this academic year – proof that policies requiring teachers to contribute more to their health care and other changes are paying off for schools.
“The adults are the ones who had to make sacrifices, not the kids,” Scott said. “The budget is working now to protect students during these tough economic times, and I think parents around my district are seeing that now.”
Scott began his second, two-term in the state House in January. He comes from a competitive legislative district, but he won re-election last November with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Scott would be up for re-election in 2012 if he survives Tuesday’s recall attempt.
Fellow Republicans, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and even the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights have rallied to Scott’s defense.
“These recalls are divisive and cost us precious time, money and effort,” Mike Jackson, the MRCC’s executive treasurer/secretary, said in note to members in Scott’s district. “They distract all of us, whatever our political persuasion, from the urgent tasks at hand. If we don’t agree with someone, we are free to sponsor opposing candidates in the next election cycle.”
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