Recall amendment would apply only to governor

PEORIA

Disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is not on the ballot Nov. 2.

But his presence will be felt in a proposed amendment to the state's Constitution. If passed, it would provide another mechanism to recall a governor in mid-term.

Technically, this one would allow voters to have a say. But the amendment is bound in bureaucratic red tape - and it applies only to the office of governor.

"I think it's kind of like the wizard of Oz," said Bradley University political science professor Dr. Bill Hall. "When you pull back the curtain, nothing is there."

Here's how the amendment would work:

No less than six months after the governor takes office, recall could begin once an "elector" - a registered voter, according to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock - files an affidavit with the State Board of Elections to notify that a petition will be circulated. That person must sign the affidavit, along with at least 20 members of the state House of Representatives and at least 10 members of the state Senate. No more than half the signatures can come from members of the same political party.

The amendment requires the petition to be signed by a number of registered voters equal to at least 15 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the preceding election. At least 100 signatures must be obtained from each of 25 different counties. And the petition must be completed within 150 days of filing the affidavit.

Then the State Board of Elections has 100 days to certify the petition. If the petition is certified, the State Board will call a special election no more than 100 days later.

Should a majority of voters opt for recall, the governor would be removed from office immediately. The public price tag is an estimated $101 million.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 18 states permit the recall of state officials. None, however, confine that procedure to governors. Even where it is law, voters rarely remove a sitting governor from office in mid-term. California Gov. Gray Davis was recalled in 2003, but the previous recall was in North Dakota in 1921.

Nevertheless, Peoria-area state legislators voted to put the amendment to a vote Nov. 2.

"I voted to put it on the ballot and let the voters decide," Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, said, adding the bill had been watered down by Democrats.

Rep. Mike Smith, D-Canton, said he supports expanding recall to all state elected officials.

"I voted for the constitutional amendment that only includes the governor because it was the only version of recall that made it onto the floor for a vote. I think that recall for the office that has been home to two of the most corrupt officials in state history is better than no recall at all."

Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, also said he would have liked to have seen the amendment apply to more officials than the governor.

"I think all of us ought to be able to be recalled if the public wants to recall us," he said.

Risinger said it's not an easy process and it shouldn't be, but recall should be available to voters.

"They put you in, they should be able to take you out," he said.

Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, said he has always supported adding recall language to the state Constitution and believes most voters feel the same way.

"What I believe people are upset about is that it doesn't go far enough, i.e., it is only the governor," Koehler said. "There is also a high threshold of signatures required to place a recall on the ballot. I don't have a problem with that, though. This should not be too easy or it will create a situation where a governor is afraid to govern. Recall should be for an egregious abuse of power or something major that can't wait until the next election."

According to the League of Women Voters of Illinois' website, the group offers no voting recommendation because it has not studied the issue thoroughly. But the group has created a brochure that lists arguments for and against the amendment.

In its favor, recall could improve the performance and responsiveness of elected officials, give voters more control and stimulate interest in public affairs. Against its passage, there could be more burdens on the voter, more restraints on elected officials, more expense and the risk the process would be used for partisan purposes and abused by well-financed special-interest groups.

Hall is a League member and a Ph.D. whose current research interests include judicial retention elections, Peoria politics and local voting behavior. The League may not have a preference, but Hall's position on this version of a recall amendment seems clear.

"We need to do it right," he said. "I don't think this is the way to do it."

 

Terry Bibo can be reached at 686-3189 or tbibo@pjstar.com.