Thursday, October 15, 2009

Power to recall governors "up to the people"

By Bethany Jaeger
When voters head to the polls November 2, 2010, they’ll vote on who they want to represent them in the General Assembly, who they want as governor and constitutional officers and whether they want the ability to recall a governor.

The ability to recall a sitting governor would require changing the state Constitution, which would require at least 60 percent of voters in the 2010 general election to vote “yes.”

The version approved Thursday by the Illinois Senate 56-1, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 31, would only apply to governors. Previous versions proposed much broader powers to recall all elected officials, including county board chairs and judges. That proposal passed the House last spring but stalled in the Senate.

Gov. Pat Quinn said he has supported recall proposals for 33 years and described Thursday’s version as “the ultimate ethics measure.”

“The very best way to ensure the governor does the right thing all the time is to have in our Constitution the power of recall with respect to the office of governor,” he said.

Some legislators warned, however, that the fear of being recalled by unhappy voters or by organizations with narrow interests would make governors only do what is popular at the time, not what is in the best interest of the state in the long-run.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said the recall provision is going down a dangerous path. “I often believe we do things or fail to do things because we are afraid of the shadow of our next election,” he said to his peers during floor debate. “But when you do this, when you put something like this in [the Constitution], that shadow is upon you at all times.” However, he ended up voting in favor of putting the question before voters.

Quinn said allowing voters to decide what is in their Constitution is a fundamental part of democracy, and he intends to support the referendum. “If the conduct of the chief executive betrays the public trust, they don’t carry out the will of the people in a very significant way, voters should not be subjected to having to wait years and years until the next election to review their performance.”

Here is some more background about the proposal from a previous blog post:
  • A governor must be in office for 6 months before the recall process is started.
  • 20 House members and 10 Senate members from both parties would have to sign off on an initial recall proposal from citizens.
  • Once legislators approved the measure to put the question on the ballot, individuals seeking to remove the governor would have 150 days to round up the signatures to put the question of whether to remove the governor before voters. They would need a number of signatures equal to 15 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. For instance, Rep. Jack Franks said the number of signatures currently needed would be 750,000 based off of the 2006 election.
  • There must be at least 25 different counties with 100 signatures each.
  • This version of the bill would only apply to the governor’s position, and it contains new safeguards intended to prevent abuse of the power. These new aspects came under fire from House Republicans.

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