Thursday, February 05, 2009

Recall bill

Partial Recall: Linn County GOP legislators introduce recall bill

The Linn County salary war has escalated to the legislative level, as Republican House leader Kraig Paulsen and Linn County freshmen Nick Wagner and Renee “Landslide” Schulte have introduced a bill that would bring recall elections to Iowa for the first time.

The bill applies only to local officials, and the exclusion of state legislators from their own bill is already a bone of contention. I'm not sure yet whether this is a serious effort. More likely, I think this is a message to the Linn County supervisors: “Reconvene your compensation board and get the pay cut recommendation that you promised during the campaign.”

Supervisor Brent Oleson and Auditor Joel Miller have been talking about this on their own blogs. Most of the coverage has focused on the salary fight itself. But as a geek I take it on myself to look at the bill details.

The petition bar is pretty high: 20 percent of the vote for the office in the last election. It's not 100 percent clear to me how that works for a vote for more than one, but if you're calculating a percentage for a nomination in a party primary, you add all votes cast (including write ins) and divide by number of offices elected.

If that's how you do it, that gives us a threshold of 2030 to 2410 for most of the Iowa City council, 8816 to 11,928 for Johnson County offices elected in 2008, and 6580 to 6923 for Johnson County offices elected in 2006 (based on the lower vote totals from a governor's year). Compare that to the petition for a recount of the conservation bond, which pulled together over 1300 names in a few days. “Difficult, not impossible,” as Rocco Lampone said.

The minimum of 50 means it would be really hard to recall, say, the mayor of Cotter in Louisa County, where they have 28 registered voters. (You can mentally Insert David Yepsen's Consolidate The Small Towns rant here.)

This wouldn't work like the California governor recall of 2003, where you voted first on whether or not to remove Davis and second on Ahnold for Governator. You just vote yes or no on keeping the official. I always thought that including the replacement election on the same ballot was a leading question.

But leaving it off means, according to the bill, “If a majority of those voting on the question vote to recall the officer, the office becomes vacant and the vacancy shall be filled as provided by chapter 69.” Theoretically that could mean an appointment, but given the pitchforks and torches level of contentiousness that would certainly be in the air, that probably guarantees a second special election.

I grew up in a state with recall. I saw it used right, to address malfeasance. I saw it used wrong in racially tinged fights over school boundaries and Native American rights. I've always thought recall was meant for serious, Blagojevich-level corruption, and while the Linn County pay issue certainly deserves a vigorous debate, I don't think it rises to that level and I'm not yet convinced that the citizens of Linn County have exhausted all the existing tools in the toolbox yet.

My community gets contentious sometimes—-witness the Newport Road fight, the Franker/anti-Franker battles of the North Liberty city council, the 21 bar fight and the conservation bond. And I've seen it worse, like the Kanner-Pfab era city council and some of the county zoning fights of the early '90s, back when Joe Bolkcom could barely get a motion seconded.

Some of these local, that's where the money is fights don't compromise out very well. There's winners, there's losers, eventually there's finality. You can't un-spend the money after it's spent, or un-build the school or road. Either you think 18 year olds are adults or you don't. So there's hard feelings after the fact. There's a few safeguards in the bill – no recalls in the first or last six months of a term, no re-recalls for two years after a recall vote. But I worry that in Iowa City, recall would lead to a perpetual cycle of do-overs.

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