Ethically Challenged Legislators Benefit from Recall Changes
Hartland, MI: Given the Courser/Gamrat scandal, the Republicans might rue the day they voted for their incumbent protection racket. Back in the waning days of December 2012, in late night votes, Republicans voted to change the recall rules.
As reported in MIRS, a Lasing political newsletter, 80% of citizens from State Representative Todd Courser’s district want him to resign. They also reported that “at least two individuals have taken out the paperwork needed to begin a recall.” For the record, I also called for his resignation during an August 7 interview with MIRS.
But despite his well-documented disgraceful conduct, Todd Courser (R-82nd District, Lapeer County) vows he will not resign. (Cindy Gamrat (R-80th District, Allegan County) has remained silent.) If Courser is not expelled by the legislature and his constituents want him out of office, they will have to recall him. Unfortunately, recent legislative shenanigans limit citizen’s choices when it comes to replacing Mr. Courser.
During the lame duck session of 2012 a Republican controlled House, Senate, and Executive Branch pushed through several changes to the recall process making it more difficult to recall an officeholder. It was just another example of the establishment elites taking power from Michigan citizens and transferring it to the Lansing political class.
One particular aspect of this legislative monkey business is especially troubling. You see, even if a recall petition is successful, by law Courser will be the Republican nominee in the subsequent election to choose another State Representative for the 82nd District. The law states:
Unless the incumbent declines within 10 days after the filing of a recall petition, the incumbent shall be the nominee of that political party at the recall general election to be held as described in section 970e and that political party shall not conduct a recall primary election . . . [MCL 168.970b]
Yes, in their quest to protect their own incumbents from recall, the Republican establishment’s new law pretty much guarantees that Todd Courser will be the Republican nominee for the 82nd District, even if his constituents just decided to recall him.
By voting these changes into law, the Republican establishment just stuck it to their own supporters in the 82nd District. Courser won his election with 55% of the vote. If successfully recalled, will a majority of voters who just recalled him be happy having Todd Courser as their nominee to fill the vacated seat?
A community that elected a Republican in 2014 may well be stuck with providing ballot access to a rogue Republican, adding insult to injury. Will the voters in the 82nd District like that? In the current political climate, probably not. Republicans will have only themselves to blame when the ire of citizens increases.
This new law not only benefits incumbent Republicans, it also benefits incumbent Democrats. Let’s examine an example of how this incumbent protection scheme works using Democrat State Senator Virgil Smith (4th District). You may remember that Senator Smith engaged in his own despicable behavior. On May 11 the Detroit News reported, “His ex-wife says she was met by a naked Smith at the front door of his home in the 18000 block of Wexford on the city’s east side and he beat her with his fists, chased her outside and shot at her four or five times as well as firing at her car.”
If contemplating a recall, constituents in the 4th Senate District will run into the same issue as those in the 82nd House District. There is no way to remove the offending incumbent as the nominee of the incumbent’s party. In the heavily Democrat 4th District, Virgil Smith won his 2014 election with 82% of the vote. Yet, with the new recall election laws Mr. Smith will automatically be the Democrat nominee even if his constituents successfully recall him for his bad behavior. With the new law, Democrat voters are not permitted to select a new Democrat nominee in a primary election.
The 2012 changes to Michigan recall laws are an affront to citizens voting rights. It is unconscionable that our state government stripped citizens of their right to have a full primary election to choose their preferred candidate to run in a general election to replace a recalled officeholder. Not only do these changes limit citizen choice, they increase the difficulty of successfully recalling an officeholder. I urge you to contact your State Representative and State Senator and ask them to repeal all of the 2012 changes. Given that these changes were rammed through in less than one month, it should not be difficult for our elected officials to repeal them by the end of September.