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Let’s Stop Recall Fever

Until recently, recall elections were held only when a substantial number of voters believed that an officeholder was guilty of malfeasance or gross incompetence. Now the people’s recall power increasingly has been made a tool of political retribution.

Since 1911, there have been six elections to recall state officials. Three occurred over the first eight decades that the recall was law, and three occurred in the last 14 months. Now there are plans to try to recall Gov. Pete Wilson. Though many may dislike Wilson’s policies, the time to express political disapproval is in a regular election--not in some expensive exercise that might produce no change anyway.

The latest abuse of the traditional recall occurred last week. Assemblyman Michael J. Machado (D-Linden) easily survived in an election prompted by Republicans who claimed the freshman legislator lied last year when he promised he would be an independent voice in the Assembly; later he supported then-Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).

Before the Machado vote, Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove), now the state Senate minority leader, disclosed the GOP’s real motivation. “Machado looks vulnerable,” he said. “We think we can win. There’s no secret here. This is about breaking down the Democratic machine. . . . This is about control of the state.” Hurtt might have spared his party some embarrassment by first exploring Machado’s support among his constituents, who backed the assemblyman 2 to 1 in the recall voting.

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Meanwhile, GOP plans are still going forward to recall Assemblywoman Doris Allen of Cypress, a Republican, because of her Faustian bargain with Brown that put her in the Speaker’s chair. Bankrupt Orange County will have to put up the election funds for this folly.

Last November voters approved Proposition 183, which gave the governor the option to allow special elections to be consolidated with regularly scheduled elections, thus avoiding substantial expenses. That’s an option that should be employed whenever possible.

No one is suggesting that the authority to recall be stripped away, but continued abuse--for purely political punishment--undermines the spirit of progressive government in whose name the recall provision was placed in the state Constitution.


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