Recall: Approve it and rarely use it
Among the many things the convictions of Illinois' past two former governors, Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich, produced is a ballot question asking voters if they want the power to recall the state's chief executive.
Approving it would put a complicated process in place. Activists pushing recall would need support from 30 legislators from both the House and Senate and both major parties. They would then need signatures equal to 15 percent of votes cast in the last election, or likely more than 500,000. To ensure the recall effort is broad, 100 voter signatures in at least 25 counties also would be required to prompt a special recall election.
The process should be elaborate. Recalling governors who have been duly elected may not be the best approach to solving Illinois' corruption problems. Indeed, Blagojevich wasn't removed by recall. He was impeached after his arrest. Ultimately, he was removed from office through that course in a matter of weeks, with greater speed and lower cost than a recall effort could have produced. In fact, one of the arguments against recall is that it is estimated it could cost taxpayers more than $100 million. That figure may be high, but it should be weighed.
Perhaps more significant is that a vote of the people is a sacred thing which should rarely be destroyed. After all, governors' terms last only four years, a relatively short period of time before voters can again make their will be done.
Blagojevich's removal prompted the appointment of a commission to develop ideas to remedy state government's ethics problems. Many, if not most, of those ideas were dismissed by legislators. The commission's proposals also gave rise to a coalition of business, good government and other groups that has continued to push remedies to deal with Springfield's broken system. But that coalition isn't pushing for the recall amendment. Instead, it's focusing on other higher priorities, like term limits on legislative leaders and a less political process for drawing the districts that spawn legislative candidacies.
Still, we remember well the torturous days of dealing with governors many of us thought were doing great damage. In one sense, the ability of citizens to recall a governor is another significant exercise in citizen participation. We are most persuaded by the belief that we have a system in Illinois that leaves far too much power in the hands of the majority legislative leaders. Yes, Democrats did allow for the impeachment of fellow Democrat Blagojevich, but it is easy to see how two majority leaders could block another impeachment effort that might be badly needed.
Recall provisions are in place in 18 states, but they've only been used twice in U.S. history. Illinois voters should approve the ability to recall a governor this fall. And then, we all should hope we never again have reason to consider using it.