August 5, 2011
Imagine, for a moment, you were a member of freshman Governor Rick Snyder’s strategy team this past spring, when he was ramming revolutionary governmental and funding changes through the state legislature.
Your mission was to figure out a way to get his opponents to spend time, money and energy on a fruitless mission that would deplete their resources and do no harm to the governor. What would you suggest?
Well, you probably couldn’t do better than to secretly encourage a drive to get the governor recalled. Even getting a recall on the November ballot would require more than 800,000 valid signatures — which means organizers would have to collect 1.1 million.
That would be a stupendous task, one for which the costs would be high and the chances of success extremely low. Efforts to get constitutional amendments on the state ballot have routinely failed, unless special interest groups have been willing to pony up large amounts of money to pay people to gather signatures.
Now, before anyone starts spinning conspiracy theories, let me hasten to say that there is absolutely no evidence the Snyder camp did anything like this. The recall effort was solely the brainchild of his enemies. And despite the odds, the “recall Rick” forces insisted that there was enough anger and spontaneous support out there to make up for their lack of money and professional canvassers.
They vowed they would submit more than a million signatures by August 5, the deadline to qualify for this year’s ballot. Well, guess what happened. Early this week, they admitted they were short.
Way short. Tom Bryant, a spokesman, said his forces had collected slightly more than 300,000 signatures and stood no chance of making the November ballot.
Nevertheless, they vowed to keep collecting them, in the hope they’d somehow qualify for the next election. There are problems with that, however. Even if somehow they did get enough signatures, the next possible election date is February 28 — the presidential primary.
As it now stands, Democrats won’t be participating in that primary; barring a cataclysm, they have their presidential candidate.
This will be a largely all-Republican election. Do the recall organizers think those voters will choose to dump their popular governor?
True, there is a chance the primary may be changed. What if hordes of anti-Snyder voters were to show up and vote to remove him from office? What then? Plainly, those who want a recall think that means the state would hold a new election almost immediately.
But former Attorney General Frank Kelley doesn’t think so. He held that job longer than anyone in history and is intimately familiar with the Michigan Constitution. “I don’t see where there would be a special election. The lieutenant governor would take over,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who was picked by Snyder for that job a year ago, has been an enthusiastic supporter of all the governor’s programs, from the toughened Emergency Financial Manager law to the huge tax breaks for businesses. He stood ready to break a tie in the Senate (one that never happened) in case that body deadlocked over the governor’s proposal to tax pensions.
The only area, in fact, where the 34-year-old Calley differs from his leader is on social issues, where he is seen as considerably more conservative, which might not appeal much to the recall crowd.
Those opposed to the pension tax in particular vowed to go after legislators who supported it, and again said they expected to recall dozens. Getting a state legislative repeal on the ballot is much easier; generally, you need fewer than 10,000 valid signatures.
But here again, effort after effort failed, in some cases because those in charge of the drive couldn’t come up with ballot language that passed muster with elections boards. As the deadline approached, only three recall efforts seemed to have a chance of getting enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Those three are aimed at removing State Reps. Kurt Damrow of Austin, Jeff Farrington of Utica and Paul Scott of Grand Blanc, all Republicans. One might have thought Scott would be especially vulnerable. He ran a quixotic campaign for the GOP nomination for secretary of state a year ago, a campaign in which his main issue seemed to be his vow that he would prevent people who had sex-change surgery from changing their sex on their driver’s license.
“It’s a social values issue,” he claimed. Nevertheless, he was rejected by the GOP state convention, which picked Ruth Johnson instead. Mr. Scott then ran for re-election to the state House instead.
However, the 29-year-old bachelor’s effort to portray himself as a social values candidate may have been blunted by his admission in February that he had impregnated a former staffer, and that they had no plans to marry.
Regardless of whether any of these recalls reach the November ballot, the outcome is bound to have minimal effect on the power balance in the legislature. For one thing, the voters may not choose to remove them. Former House Speaker Andy Dillon easily survived a recall attempt three years ago. Even if all three were replaced with Democrats, the GOP would still control the lower house 60-50.
Those opposed to Rick Snyder’s policies may be forced to reluctantly conclude that the recall weapon may have been overrated.
Jack Lessenberry, the longtime head of journalism at Wayne State University, can be heard on his podcast on YouTube via the Zing Media Network. He also is a winner of a National Emmy Award for a 1994 Frontline documentary on Dr. Jack Kevorkian, has served as The Toledo Blade’s writing coach and ombudsman and is now a columnist for and a consultant to both that newspaper and Block Communications, Inc. He is also the co-author of “The People’s Lawyer,” a biography of Frank Kelley, the nation’s longest-serving attorney general, and is working on a book on a pioneering newspaper family and race.